Housing First in Europe- 5 Short Summaries of Test Sites

I am truly lucky for this year abroad researching and looking at social housing and homeless programs in Germany and the EU.  The world is increasingly more global  and sharing of best practices can not be limited to country borders.  As I researched homeless programs in Germany, I came across the name of a Dr. Volker Busch-Geertsema.  He is the leader of the European Homeless Observatory and a noted researcher on housing issues in Europe.  He shared some examples of various programs in Europe and I find one article in particular of interest.  Dr. Volker wrote on Housing First Europe.  In this program there were five test sites throughout the EU.  Below is a short summary of Dr. Volker Busch-Geertsema’s excellent study.  All credit goes him and the organizers of the program in their respective countries.

When looking at this brief description please remember the population served is a very hard to house group normally.  Many of the program participants had been homeless for a long time and many had drug and alcohol problems.  The report did note that some of the most chaotic homeless applicants were not housed in these programs.  That needs to be figured in when looking at overall results.

1. Amsterdam-

  • Housing:  Program developers worked with a service provider who held a contract with five social housing agencies for the units of housing.
  • Support: The support team consisted of 19 workers with backgrounds ranging from social workers, anthropologists, a nurse, a sports teacher and a former homeless person to act as a peer.  The ratio of service was 1 provider to 6-8 participants with 8-10 hours of help per resident spent.
  • Results: 97.2% of all participants were still housed after 1 year with 2.8% having a negative outcome. Perhaps most importantly the majority of participants felt their situations as far as quality of life improved.  Loneliness is still a problem and that seems to be an issue with many housing programs for homeless.

2. Budapest

  • Housing: The program in Budapest was not well funded with only €800 per person a year available.  In Hungary a small unit costs around €140 a month plus utilities.  There was no access to housing units for program developers. Renting from the market was the only choice.
  • Support: Simply stated, the project was underfunded.  The ratio was 1:24 with service providers from existing agencies helping.
  • Results: 50% of participants were still housed at the end of the study but not with the program.  The program itself ended in Budapest.  The program  departed from the core points of Housing First which is long term housing security.

3. Copenhagen

  • Housing: Copenhagen as a city assigns 1/3 of its housing units to high priority groups. This is similar to priorities in the USA.  Moving to Work agencies should take special notice of the idea of using public housing units for special programs.  In this particular program 3/5 of participants were housed in congregate housing.  Scattered site units were also used.  Of special note, there were times when the waitlist for scattered sites was long while empty spaces were open in the in the congregate units.
  • Support: Copenhagen followed the Pathway to Housing model employing a team of medial professionals, psychiatrist and addiction specialist.
  • Results:  The housing retention rate at the end of the study was 93.8%.   4 persons or 6.3% had a negative outcome of either losing housing, ending up in jail or homelessness.  Many participants reported problems with alcohol and drug abuse did not change.  In most situations, at least a small number did report better situations than before.  However, drug addiction and alcohol abuse is a long term problem and stable housing is only a first step in a long road.

4. Scotland

  • Housing: Scotland has a statutory homeless system. That means program participants receive an unlimited rental contract with the housing associations in Scotland.
  • Support: The workforce supporting the clients consisted of coordinators, co-coordinators  and four peer support workers.  The caseloads were small 1:3 with additional support being sought when needed.
  • Results: 92.9% were still housed at the end of the study with 1 person or 7.1% of the population having an negative outcome.  Many of the participants were drug users mainly heroin.  This makes the project that more impressive.  Improvements in mental health were reported and mixed but positive results in substance abuse were reported.  Many had decreased the use of hard drugs but cannabis and alcohol were still being abused. Finances were still a problem but many were in better situations thanks to the stable housing.  I would recommend going to page 66 for more information on results for Glasgow.

5. Lisbon-

  • Housing: Social Housing stock in Portugal is not extensive. Lisbon program designers followed the Pathways to Housing Model from NY and worked with the private rental market.
  • Support: The support team had 6 employees with a ratio of 1:11.  Funding issues caused the program participants and supporting staff to be reduced.
  • Result: The retention rate was 79.4% after three years and very severe budget cuts.  Compared to other programs the amount of drug users at the start was not as high.  Around half of the 21 who reported using drugs at the start said they had stopped. The program secured some sort of stable income for all participants except 1 person.

My goal is to keep all of my blogs between 50-1000 words.  This blog is only meant to give a taste of the full report by Doctor Volker.  Please use this link to see the full report.

Click to access FinalReportHousingFirstEurope.pdf

The article brings out the positive points to the program and where more funds could be devoted.  I saw the results of housing models like Rapid Rehousing in Tacoma and Seattle.  People are re-housed quicker in times of crisis.  On top of that many families did not need a subsidy within a short period of time.  Homelessness and poverty are complex themes.  Everyone is different in their needs but ensuring safe, decent and affordable housing is a basic human right and Housing First is an approach that deserves a lot of attention.  This article and thinking about Housing First has made me think of the education programs on the West Coast related to housing.  Immediately housing low income families and stabilizing children’s education system is highly important.  I suppose this is another subject for another day.

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