Ending Homelessness in Europe
The European federation against homelessness, Feantsa, is a central plattform where organizations from across Europe can share knowledge, best practices, and together push forward towards a national strategy to end homelessness. Here are a few stories from the network, with the Housing first model in focus.
Rick Henderson, CEO of Homeless link
When UK based Homeless Link started with Housing first in 2012, only nine agencies worked with the model. Today 50 Housing first agencies exist in the network, and during the same time period, funding of Housing first has increased from 2 million to 40 million pounds.
Rick Henderson, CEO of Homeless link, says one of Homeless links current projects, Housing First England, is aiming to increase the service further. The project works with training, funding, and producing information material.
“We want to encourage more organizations to start up Housing first services. We also work with housing authorities to find more apartments across the UK”, Henderson said.
In Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, Housing first pilot projects have been initiated by the local authorities.
Henderson, who has been chief executive since July 2012 and also is a member of the government’s National Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel, was hoping for the pilot projects to be permanent services from start.
“We already know that Housing first is a model with good scientific evidence, so we are hopeful that after this trial period, the projects will become mainstream in these cities”, Henderson said.
Melanie Schmit, Chairwoman of Housing First Netherlands
In the Netherlands, around 21 organizations in different cities provide Housing first services. “Results are successful,” Melanie Schmit from the independent network organization Housing First Netherlands, said. ”Almost all providers have 80-90 percent housing sustainability.”
The aim of Housing First Netherlands is now to unite all the care providers and also to work with policies and decision makers. Besides promoting and scaling up Housing first across the Netherlands, Housing first Netherlands also support workers by sharing knowledge, experiences and results from across the country.
“I think many Housing first providers, not only in Netherlands but also across Europe, struggle with more or less the same issues. Affordable housing for people with low income is one clear example,” Schmit, who also works as a thought leader at the care provider LIMOR, said.
Another aspect we should consider is if more housing is the answer or if we should rearrange the existing housing stock, Schmit added.
“I think we need to be more creative with what we have and we need to work more on finding alternative housing solutions,” she said.
The big goal for Housing first Netherlands is to find best practices for how to scale up Housing first and in the future to have a national strategy based on housing first to end homelessness.
“For me, it would be a dream if all municipalities in the Netherlands used Housing first as the main response homelessness”, Schmit said.
Ruth Owen, Policy Coordinator at Feantsa
“I think one key to the success of Housing First is that it is based on the simple idea that, if people are homeless, they need a house and that should be the starting point of ending homelessness”, Ruth Owen said.
That simplicity has a powerful impact on both a personal and a national level Owen said, referring to the housing crisis that we are currently experiencing across the European Union.
“As a service model, Housing First can make a huge difference in people’s lives and can be a new way of offering services to a vulnerable target group,” She said. “In the bigger picture, it also puts housing exclusion and the right to housing for everyone at the center of the response to end homelessness.”
While social workers, organizations and governments are trying to move toward a Housing first way of working, or to start and scale up Housing first services, they all face more or less the same challenges. The European Hub for Housing first, a part of Feantsa, serves as a meeting place to gather these organizations to share experiences, challenges and recent results.
“There is an awful lot of systems to overcome and there is resistance in many contexts. There is also the challenge of finding suitable housing. But, a lot of work has already been done, so it is great to be able to benefit from what other people have done rather than each starting from scratch on their own”, Owen said.
As the model has become more successful, many services are now perhaps incorrectly labeled as Housing first, and there is a risk that Housing first could become a victim of its own success.
“The European commission promotes Housing first and you can get funding to implement it. Governments have recognized that Housing first is a model that works and have embraced it, although sometimes in a slightly tokenistic way,” Owen said. “Hence, it is important that there is a movement, a group, or a hub, that can work collectively to safeguard the model and the uniqueness of its simple idea.”
Ian Tilling, president of Feantsa
Ian Tilling, president of the European federation against homelessness, Feantsa, is hoping for bigger impact for the fight against homelessness in Europe in coming years. After the federation’s general assembly in May 2019, also municipalities and authorities can now be a part of Feantsa together with non-government organizations that originally formed the federation.
“This opens new doors for talks with local authorities and for the continuous work for national strategies against homelessness,” Ian Tilling said.
Tilling, who have lived in Romania for over 20 years, is also founder and CEO of Romanian Casa Iona which has two centers in Bucharest. The centers work with women and children who suffered domestic violence and abuse, and also work with families living in homelessness.
In Romania the housing situation has changed drastically. In the 1990s, 67 percent of housing was publicly owned. Today the number is only 1.7 percent.
“Romania also got its first official definition of homelessness only six years ago,” Tilling said. “Meanwhile, more people are in need of housing, and there is no social housing solutions in the country, so people in need have practically nowhere to go.”
For Ian Tilling and his team it is crucial to cooperate with other European organizations to be able to make a difference in Romania, and the Housing first model is one example.
“Housing first is unfortunately far away for Romania. But what we are trying to do is to look at other housing solutions that are possible in the country but which will fit the Housing first approach and use it as a ground to push forward with the agenda of ending homelessness in Europe,” he said.
Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy at Focus Ireland
In Dublin, Focus Ireland’s Housing first service started eight years ago and has provided homes for hundreds of people since.
According to Mike Allen, director of Advocacy at Focus Ireland, their Housing first program initially concentrated on 100 identified people who had been ‘rough sleeping’ systematically for years, some of them for 20 years or longer.
“These are the hardest persons to reach, and also the ones who are completely left out from all the systems,” Allen says.
“Governments are actually not spending much money on people who sleep on the street since they rarely use public services. Hence they are often not a prioritized group,” Allen continues.
During Focus Ireland’s 30 year old history, their work have always been about preventing homelessness and supporting people out of it and into their own homes. The motive of Focus Ireland is very much a rights based, humanitarian vision on ending homelessness
“We invest in research and evaluation and learning from others. So when we came across research and literature about Housing first, it strengthened our notion that housing and not shelter is the solution,” Allen says.
Despite the success of the Housing first program, the number of people ‘rough sleeping’ is higher than ever in Ireland. The housing prices have hit the country, resulting in more, but also new groups of people living in homelessness.
“We are currently exploring Housing first for youth and Housing first for families with complex needs who, sadly, are not the first to be prioritized either. We believe a Housing first approach to them will yield results,” Allen says.