Preston: The benefits of a ‘housing first’ approach to reduce rough sleeping

A voluntary sector group which provides services for rough sleepers in Preston has set up a “Housing First” approach, giving clients a guarantee of accommodation which then allows them to address health and social issues they have.

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The challenge

The Foxton Centre has been working with rough sleepers in Preston for the past 15 years. Through its outreach work, which is partly funded by Preston City Council, the charity identifies rough sleepers, and offers them support and safety.

On a weekly basis, the team of community social workers and volunteers take to the streets to make contact with people sleeping rough. They go out in the early mornings, during the day and in the evenings. The rough sleepers are encouraged to use the community café at the centre where they can get cooked food.

The centre also receives referrals in from social workers, the NHS and the probation service. There are showers and washing machines for them to use and staff are on hand to try to help them find accommodation, put them in touch with a doctor and help them with their finances and benefits. When the weather is really bad, the centre opens its doors to let people sleep on the floor.

Foxton Chief Executive Officer Jeff Marsh said: “The work we have done has really made a different, but three years ago we started to re-think how we did things.

“A common approach of many agencies who work with the homeless is to insist they stop drinking or using drugs before they will be accepted for accommodation and if they re-lapse they are at risk of getting evicted. We wanted to try something different.”

The solution

In 2015, Foxton launched its Housing First project. It is based on a model developed in the US that offers homeless people stable accommodation immediately without the need to be so-called “housing ready”. From there, they are supported with the challenges they face, including health and substance misuse issues.

Foxton worked with a local property management company, MITEC, to develop the project. MITEC supplied the properties with Foxton, then used a dedicated team of 4.5 full-time equivalent case workers to provide intensive support for them. Housing benefits that clients are entitled to have helped pay for the scheme.

Mr Marsh said: “These clients can have severe mental illness, poor physical health, long-term limiting illnesses and learning disabilities. The issues are extremely complex.

“We keep the caseloads small (around eight at a time) so we can work with them to get the support they need. The eventual goal is to find them permanent accommodation and get their lives back on track.”

The impact

The number of properties in the Housing First project is increasing all the time. There are now 35. Around 70 per cent of people provided with accommodation stay for at least 12 months.

One of the people who has been helped is John. He had been in prison and was struggling with drug addiction when he was referred to the scheme by the probation service.

He started doing some voluntary work repairing bicycles, which together, with help from the drug and alcohol treatment service, allowed him to get on top of his substance misuse while being in stable accommodation.

After 14 months, he was ready to move into independent accommodation and went on to find employment. He describes the support he received as the “perfect stepping stone” that allowed him to take control of his life.

Mr Marsh cases like this illustrate the impact a Housing First approach has. “It has made a huge difference to the people we help. The fact we have other services too is really beneficial. It helps to build up a strong relationship, which increases the chances of positive outcomes.”

Lessons learned

Mr Marsh said “Once a client has started accepting help and is reducing their drinking or drug taking it is important to help them find something to keep them occupied and feeling fulfilled – as the bicycle repair work did for John.

He said: “The habit is often motivated by blocking out the difficult things in the individual’s life, perhaps the breakdown of family relationships or bereavement. As soon as they stop doing it they have more time on their hands. They need something to keep them active and involved.

“That is where our range of support comes up. We have allotments, a social enterprise and arts group. The clients have also helped with soup kitchens and volunteered at the community centre.”

How is the approach being sustained?

Foxton and the council have worked together to apply for Government funding from the Rough Sleepers Initiative to expand the work it does.

In October 2018, the council got over £100,000 to extend the outreach work. There are now two full-time posts to complement the two 16-hour-a-week posts that were already in operation. That has allowed Foxton to do more frequent outreach.

Then in January, the council was awarded £500,000 funding to set up a Homeless Hub. Work will soon start on upgrading the facilities at the community centre.

There will be a medical room with a view to getting health services delivered there including drug and alcohol treatment, dentistry and perhaps even GP sessions. There are also going to be some bedrooms with a view to offering short 72-hour emergency accommodation.

Contact details

Jeff Marsh

Chief Executive Officer

The Foxton Centre

[email protected]