To see a social problem with a fresh pair of eyes is both a blessing and a curse. As someone who has worked in the housing field for a number of years, but never specifically on homelessness, there is much I need to learn about this most severe form of housing need.
Yet this position is also a benefit as I see the things that are taken for granted, assumed or even actively ignored. From the outside looking in, the issue of rough sleeping or street homelessness seems to represent one of the most basic and visible failures of our welfare systems.
Having spent the last decade dealing with problems in urban regeneration and community development more broadly, what I see in the homelessness field is a rare and precious opportunity; a problem that we all agree should be solved, and for which we have well evidenced solutions. Coming from a field where both problems and solutions are hard to evidence and always contested, we seem well placed to tackle this issue and make a lot of people’s lives better.
When I say that we have well-evidenced solutions, we might consider the Housing First (HF) approach to be one of these. Under HF people are housed in permanent accommodation as a basic right, and provided with support without significant conditions or obligations. There is increasingly persuasive evidence that this is an effective intervention. This evidence is, as always, contested and we might accept varying critiques of it; the excessive focus on housing sustainment, the targeting of ‘easier’ to house groups, the difficulties in applying this approach with migrants etc.
Nonetheless when I look through, for instance, Busch-Geertsema’s work across several HF projects in European cities, I am struck by the weight of this evidence. In all but one of the projects studied there were housing retention rates of over 79 per cent, and most of those projects were housing people with a mixture of mental health problems and addictions. If I had found a solution to urban regeneration that was 79 per cent effective and that did not require a huge capital investment, I would have hoped this solution would be hastily adopted.
Plainly speaking this presents a moral imperative to act. What we have learned from our peer exchange work with the 100,000 Homes campaign in the U.S is that chronic rooflessness can be significantly reduced with targeted and co-ordinated action. For the Europeans who took part in this peer exchange it raised a number of questions, notably about the extent to which this campaign model could be applied across Europe. The exchange presented us with a rather searching question; we seem to have the way, but do we have the will?
To test this, World Habitat is bringing together people from a number of different European cities, along with the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). Our aim is to discuss how elements of the 100,000 Homes campaign could be transferred to a European context and how such a campaign might be organised, promoted and resourced.
It is early days, but the interest already shown across Europe would indicate that there is both the will and the way.
Tom Archer, Programme Manager