It’s about ending homelessness – not managing it

How does it work?

Successful in Canada, the USA, Europe, the United Kingdom and now in Hamilton New Zealand, the Housing First model recognises that it is easier for people to address issues such as mental health and substance use, once they are housed.

The priority is to quickly move people into appropriate housing and then immediately provide wrap-around services to support their success.

Permanent, secure, appropriate, safe housing is recognised as a basic human right. The goal of Housing First is to end homelessness - not to manage it. 

The Housing First model

Reference: Sam Tsemberis, Founder, Pathways to Housing

Where does emergency housing fit in the Housing First model? 

The evidence tells us that access to permanent housing works best, but emergency housing plays an important role in the housing continuum for some people before they are able to enter a Housing First service. It is particularly important when people are in crisis so that we can respond to their needs immediately by keeping them safe and off the street.

Across our collective we work closely with emergency housing providers so that we can support people through the housing continuum. But it is important that people do not get stuck in emergency housing – its purpose is a short-term response before people can move on to sustainable, permanent housing, with support.  

In Auckland, where there is a housing shortage, there will be a need for emergency housing services for some time to come as part of a whole system approach, allowing people to move through the housing continuum.

A brief history of Housing First

Housing First grew out of the work of Dr Sam Tsemberis, a clinical-community psychologist on the faculty of Columbia University Medical Center's psychiatry department. In 1992, Tsemberis founded Pathways to Housing in New York, his idea being to give the chronically homeless a place to live, on a permanent basis, without making them pass any tests, attend programmes, or fill out forms, then work with them on the health care, therapy, counselling and other supports that they may need. The premise was to treat homeless people as human beings and members of the community who have a basic right to a home and health care.  

Dr Sam Tsemberis

The five principles of Housing First

Housing First is based on the premise that housing is a basic human right. There are no preconditions to receiving housing. The model focuses on client-led recovery, choice of housing and supports, a separation of housing and support services, community and social integration and the availability of wrap around support for as long as it is needed.

1. Immediate access to housing with no housing readiness conditions

This means…

  • Housing First prioritises access to housing as quickly as possible.
  • Eligibility for housing is not contingent on any conditions other than willingness to maintain a tenancy.
  • The housing provided is based on suitability (stability, choice, affordability, quality, community integration) rather than the type of housing.
  • The individual will not lose their housing if they disengage or no longer require the support.
  • The individual will be given their own tenancy agreement.

2. Consumer choice and self-determination

This means that people…

  • Choose the type of housing they have.
  • Have the choice, where possible, about where they live.
  • Have the option not to engage with other services as long as there is regular contact with the Housing First team.
  • Choose where, when and how support is provided by the Housing First team.
  • Are supported through person-centred planning and are given the lead to shape the support they receive; goals are not set by the service provider.
  • There are clear pathways into, and out of, the Housing First service.

3. A harm reduction and recovery-orientation approach

This means…

  • People are supported holistically.
  • Staff support individuals who use substances to reduce immediate and ongoing harm to their health.
  • Staff support individuals who self-harm to undertake practices which minimise risk of greater harm.
  • Staff support individuals to undertake practices that reduce harm and promote recovery in other areas of physical and mental health and wellbeing. 
  • The service is designed for flexibility of support with procedures in place for high/low intensity support provision and for cases that are ‘dormant’.
  • Support is provided for the individual to transition away from Housing First if this is a positive choice for them.

4. Individualised and person-driven supports

This means…

  • Staff are responsible for proactively engaging their clients; making the service fit the individual instead of trying to make the individual fit the service.
  • Caseloads are small allowing staff to be persistent and proactive in their approach, doing ‘whatever it takes’ and not giving up or closing the case when engagement is low.
  • Support is provided for as long as each person requires it.
  • The team continues to engage and support the individual if they lose their home or leave their home temporarily.
  • Providers commit to long-term offers of support which do not have a fixed end date; recovery takes time and varies by individual needs, characteristics and experiences.
  • The support links with relevant services across sectors that help to meet the full range of an individual’s needs.

5. Social and community integration

This means…

  • Services are underpinned by a philosophy that there is always a possibility for positive change and improved health and wellbeing, relationships and community and/or economic integration.
  • Individuals are supported to develop increased self-esteem, self-worth and confidence, and to integrate into their local community.
  • Individuals are supported to identify and pursue their strengths and goals.
  • Individuals are supported to develop the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their goals.
  • Individuals are supported to build or rebuild their whanau connections and networks of supports.

*Our thanks to Homeless Link UK for allowing us to adapt their resources.