Housing First 101
What is Housing First?
Housing First is a whole-system approach that offers housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness while providing the level of supportive services people need to keep their housing. The approach begins with an immediate focus on helping households move back into housing. Income, sobriety and/or participation in treatment or other services are not required as a condition for getting housing. Households are then offered supportive services aimed at maintaining stability for those individuals in client-centered case management philosophies.
How does Housing First Work?
Housing First flips the standard response to homelessness. Traditionally, agencies work with the homeless until the are deemed “housing ready” or until they can prove that they are ready to be in housing again including but not limited to maintaining sobriety, engaging in mental health treatment, etc. Research has shown that this does not work. Instead, Housing First works with the understanding that stable housing is essential to gaining life stability. This model focuses first and foremost on connecting people to housing and surrounding them with the support they need to keep that housing. Then, in their own housing, clients work on personalized life goals. Research has shown that this model keeps people housed longer and dramatically decreases the likelihood that they will return to homelessness later in life.
Compared with traditional programs, Housing First participants show increased success at gaining and maintaining employment, assessing physical and mental health services, achieving sobriety and reaching other personal goals.
Participants are offered permanent (non-time-limited) housing options with a range of supportive services included. These housing options – arranged by how much access a household has to supportive services after housing placement – include:
Least access to supportive services
Most access to supportive services
Independent Housing – Maintained by the household without ongoing additional assistance.
Supportive Housing – Combines and links permanent, affordable housing with flexible, voluntary support services designed to help tenants stay housed and build the necessary skills to live as independently as possible.
Permanent Supportive Housing – This most comprehensive housing program is usually reserved for the most chronically homeless households. Tenants may live in their homes as long as they met basic obligations of tenancy, such as paying rent; have access to support services that they need and want; and have a private secure place to make their home, just like other members of the community, with the same rights and responsibilities.
5 Core Principles of Housing First
Housing First involves providing clients with assistance in finding and obtaining safe, secure and permanent housing as quickly as possible. The key to the Housing First philosophy is that individuals and families are not required to first demonstrate that they are ‘ready’ for housing. Housing is not conditional on sobriety or abstinence. Program participation is also voluntary. This approach runs in contrast to what has been the orthodoxy of ‘treatment first’ approaches whereby people experiencing homelessness are place in emergency services and must address certain personal issues (addictions, mental health challenges, et.) prior to being deemed ‘ready’ for housing.
Housing First is a rights-based,client-centered approach that emphasizes client choice in terms of housing and support.
- Housing – clients are able to exercise some choice regarding the location and type of housing they receive (e.g. neighborhood, congregate setting, scattered site, etc.). Choice may be constrained by local availability and affordability.
- Supports – clients have choices in terms of what services they receive, and when to start using services.
Housing First practice is not simply focused on meeting basic client need, but on supporting recovery. A recovery orientation focuses on individual well-being, and ensures that clients have access to a range of supports that enable them to nurture and maintain social, recreational, educational, occupational and vocational activities.
For those with additional challenges, a recovery orientation also means access to a harm reduction environment. Harm reduction aims to reduce the risks and harmful effects associated
A client-driven approach recognizes that individuals are unique, and so are their needs. Once housed, some people will need minimum supports while other people will need supports for the rest of their lives (this could range from case management to assertive community treatment). Individuals should be provided with “a range of treatment and support services that are voluntary, individualized, culturally-appropriate, and portable.” Supports may address housing stability, mental and physical health needs and life skills.
Income supports and rent supplements are often an important part of providing client-driven supports. If clients do not have the necessary income to support their housing, their tenancy, health, and well-being may be at risk. Rent supplements should ensure that individuals do not pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
It is important to remember that a central philosophy of Housing First is that people have access to the supports they need, if they choose. Access to housing is not conditional upon accepting a particular kind of service.
Part of the Housing First strategy is to help people integrate into their community and this requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. If people are housed and become or remain socially isolated, the stability of their housing may be compromised. Key features of social and community integration include:
- Separation of housing and support (except in the case of supportive housing).
- Housing models that do not stigmatize or isolate clients. This is one reason why scattered site approaches are preferred.
- Opportunities for social and cultural engagement are supported through employment, vocational and recreational activities.
Why Housing First?
Housing First is beneficial for every citizen in Weld County, regardless of their housing status.