Housing First in Social Housing – support for making it work

Housing First is an initiative that promotes the idea that affordable, permanent housing, provided with social support, is the key to breaking a cycle of homelessness. It is a model that believes quality of life can exponentially increases from the moment one has a home. The Housing First European Hub is a platform designed for discussing, collaborating, and learning about how to scale up the Housing First initiative. Professionals, public authorities, researchers, service-user providers, and nonprofit organizations from Spain, the U.S., the U.K., France, Finland, and the Netherlands all took part to provide an insightful exchange of knowledge about Housing First initiatives in a European context. The pertinent question to answer during this session: how do we practically meet the challenge of scaling up Housing First in a European context?

Article by Alix Goldstein, ISHF team

Ruth Owen, policy coordinator at FEANTSA, hosted the session. Housing First has been on the European agenda for a while, but it needs to become a more operational reality. Seven speakers from three different European countries provided context and examples from their city specific situations with regards to social housing and Housing First.

Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation in Finland, introduced the Housing First European Hub. He detailed the role of Housing First and its need for a sufficient supply of social housing. Thus, a close connection between homelessness organizations, municipalities, the state, social housing associations, and Housing First programs is very important. The Housing First European Hub houses 15 organizations from 10 countries. It supports teaching and learning from communities and Housing First networks to honestly share knowledge and experiences. All organizations are welcome to be involved, as the Housing First guidebook is available in eight different languages!

A key principle of Housing First is the idea that the users, the once or currently homeless, and their experiences are involved in the collaboration and planning of future Housing First initiatives. The operational details will be different within every country, but all partners follow the key principals, such as user participation in planning, assertiveness without coerciveness, and harm reduction tactics. If we want to work together on Housing First in different realties, we have to be open to operational diversity with adherence to a set of core values.

Different professionals from Liverpool, Lyon, and Amsterdam presented their country specific experiences of scaling up Housing First initiatives. Kate Farrell and Chris Hancock from the organization, Crisis, in Liverpool discussed their Feasibility Study, the report for which will be published this July on the Housing First European Hub website. Corinne Aubin Vasselin, Director of Housing for the city of Lyon, and Cédric Van Styvendael, the new Chairman of Housing Europe and the Director General for Habitat Est. in Lyon, presented their roadmap to exploring Housing First solutions and their current social inclusion project for the most excluded. Karen van Brunschot, Senior Policy Officer for Federatie Opvang, the national organization for shelter organizations in the Netherlands, and Valerie Boogaard from HVO Discus, shared the context for the current homelessness situation in the Netherlands and the Housing First program in Amsterdam specifically.

The session ended with a panel discussion, with questions focusing on the city specific examples previously presented, but also on ways to scale up Housing First initiatives within Europe in general. All participants shared new ideas and learned from each other. It was a genuine exchange of knowledge of Housing First initiatives.

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