Housing First: does it work?

Ahead of the Housing First conference which was scheduled to take place on Mon 16th April, Adele Arnold, Riverside Service Manager for our RSI funded Housing First service in Medway writes about her experience with the model. 

Well let’s start with – I truly do love my job as Medway Housing First Service Manager.

When Riverside launched a brand new Housing First service in Medway it was a new concept to the area and I guess we all learned on our feet. Riverside as an organisation was very adaptable to the changes that needed to be made in order for Housing First to work for our customers. And now we deliver a ‘high fidelity’ Housing First service, I believe more than ever that there is a possibility for positive change for anyone.

Housing First really does reflect Riverside’s values of being a caring, trusted and courageous organisation. Our customers have complex needs and have experienced many traumas in their lives. Many have been in services that haven’t worked for them to break the cycle of instability and homelessness. Many are those people who have been walked past in the street, those who are judged at times by society, who have not received support, classified as ‘non-engaging’ and felt for a very long time that they don’t matter.

Following and delivering the Housing First Principles, our customers shape the support they receive. As a result they tell us they feel that Riverside care about them as individuals because they have choice and control. What they want to achieve for themselves is at the heart of what we do. Our customers are supported to identify their strengths and encouraged to develop their knowledge and skills. The service is designed to fit our customers and our customers do not have to fit the service. The Housing First staff are proactive and will do whatever it takes.

By having a small case load of people to support, we are also able to spend time building relationships with our customers, learning about them as individuals, finding out what’s important to them. And by doing whatever it takes, our customers know that we are there for them as a person and that what they want matters.

Our customers trust us.

Trust really does take time to build, and as Housing First workers we do not give up when we are pushed away. We keep going back to show our customers that we are always there for them and we feel privileged to be part of their journeys and lives.

At times in the last year and a half we’ve had to be courageous. We have had to challenge some services and providers that have not grasped the concept of Housing First and why it works; and we’ve had to be our customers voices so they receive the services, support and understanding they are entitled too.

During this time we have had so many successes and I think the biggest achievement is that all our customers are still in their homes and have all made really positive steps towards what they want to achieve for themselves.

Our customers are maintaining their homes and their self-care by; paying bills, going food shopping or keeping themselves safe.

Our customers work with services in the community to address needs around mental health and substance use, and are now all further on in their recovery than when they were homeless.

One customer, who is volunteering at a night shelter with an organisation that provides help and support to people who are homeless, told me that this is their way of giving back to those that helped him, and being there for people who may feel that there is no hope. They are proof that there is.

All our customers have also improved relationships with their family and loved ones, where in the past they had become estranged from them.

We work with a broad range of services in the community. Working together really does have a positive effect for a customer who has experienced a crisis. For example, we engaged with mental health services and substance misuse services even when they didn’t feel they could due to the crisis, this ensured all services were aware of the crisis and could put plans and interventions in place. The partnership working reduced the impact the crisis had on our customer.

This customer described the services around him as “…his boxing ring and ropes”, and that “…we all help him not to fall down that he cannot get back up.”

When I look back over the last 18 months I am amazed by just how much we have learned and achieved. We learn from every customer we support. Riverside also help us develop professionally and personally but so do our customers. They do challenge us, but this helps us to grow, be adaptable, flexible and reflective.

We have learned that support needs to be provided for as long as an individual needs it, and that everyone’s journey is different. Just because one day a person may not want to see us, we just keep going back, on another day they will.

Intensive support is not only needed in times of crisis, but when everything is going OK.  A plan for a day doesn’t always happen, it’s often – think on your feet, be adaptable and be open to expected or unexpected changes.

We have learnt that delivering Housing First, following the principles and being an organisation who do care, who deserve to be trusted and who are courageous – it makes a difference to people’s lives.