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I remember the very place and day it happened.  In 2014 I was in Los Angeles when my view of homelessness changed.  I was shown two images. The first was a picture of Ed, a middle aged African American man who had lived for years on the streets around Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row.  His expressionless glazed eyes, and blank drawn expression spoke of a very unwell man, seemingly resigned to his fate.

The second picture was a similarly aged man.  But a confident gaze, broad smile and well groomed appearance told a very different story.  I awaited the explanation of how pure luck had led to two very different life outcomes. But no, to my surprise and shock the second picture was Ed too. It had been taken a few months after the first.  In the period between, Ed had been helped by a process called “Rapid Rehousing”.  Local volunteers working on a “Registry Week” had met Ed and through a detailed interview had identified his urgent housing needs.  Ed had been housed directly into a self-contained apartment through a local “Housing First” programme whilst he was offered care and support.

Hundreds of similar programmes across the United States contributed to a remarkable national campaign – “The 100,000 Homes Campaign”.  It focused on mobilising local volunteers to get to know homeless people in their community and prioritise their permanent rehousing.  Remarkably it worked, and over 100,000 chronic rough sleepers were rehoused over the four year period that the campaign ran.  It has contributed to the USA being one of the few Western countries where rough sleeping has declined.

As the Cathy at 50 campaign has shown the numbers are heading in the opposite direction in the UK.  Indeed with the exception of Finland (where a concerted Housing First based approach is working), every European country has seen a serious increase in rough sleeping.  The European End Street Homelessness Campaign is seeking to challenge this.  It has adopted and adapted many of the successful parts of the 100,000 Homes Campaign and adapted them to European countries.  Four registry weeks have already taken place, the Croydon one described in Inside Housing this week being one.  More cities from the UK and other European countries have signed up as the movement grows.

I never met Ed, but his story helped me believe that ending rough sleeping is not only possible, but if you do the right things, (engage the local community in the solution, get to know homeless people and adopt a Housing First approach) it might even be inevitable.  We are taking the first small steps in Europe. With your support we could help contribute to turning the tide.

 Article featured in Inside Housing 24 November 2016

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