Homelessness Programs Information Paper: Implications of Housing First for Specialist Homelessness Services Policy Context “Opening Doors”, Queensland Strategy for Reducing Homelessness 2011-14 outlines the Queensland Government’s approach for reducing homelessness over the next three years. “The Queensland Government will fund delivery of services that: improves access to existing and new accommodation and support options improves flexibility of available accommodation and services to meet diverse needs quickly settles people who are homeless into stable housing enables them to sustain their tenancies and supports them to help them engage in community life” (QG 2011:13). This includes a commitment to a housing first approach and to “... provide more flexible support options that match peoples’ duration, level and type of need”. There has been much discussion of new approaches to homelessness service delivery in recent years, some of it generated from international innovations and others driven locally. The housing first approach emerged in international contexts and has been supported locally as a key policy and practice to support ending homelessness. As part of a commitment to contemporary service delivery in Opening Doors, Homelessness Programs is building an evidence base documenting developments in service delivery to underpin decision making. This work has identified contemporary approaches that strengthen the likelihood of good outcomes for homeless people and reduce the possibility of further homelessness. It has also informed a suite of service types (the Service Delivery Framework) that can be used to create more flexible service responses for the range of needs and groups of people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Additionally, the framework will support arrangements that facilitate housing first approaches in service delivery. Purpose The purpose of this information paper is to outline the implications of Queensland’s commitment to housing first approaches to addressing homelessness by funded specialist homelessness services. This paper outlines the concept and how this shift is likely to impact on new and existing funded services. Recent consultation Consultations held in 2011 on the introduction of the new Service Delivery Framework for Homelessness Programs sought feedback on adopting of a duration of need approach and phasing out categorising supported accommodation services according to length of stay. There was strong support for moving to a housing first approach, ideally housing people very quickly. Conversely, concerns were expressed about a lack of housing supply and the need for some homeless people to access supported accommodation services quickly at times of crisis or in emergency situations. Housing First Opening Doors outlines the Queensland Government’s commitment to a housing first approach. A housing first approach is described in the Strategy as one: “... which transitions a person or household straight from homelessness into stable, long term housing, and integrated housing and support. This approach involves close working among service providers to deliver coordinated services to clients. Unnecessary and unsettling movement through multiple short-term housing arrangements will be minimised.“ (QG:2011:13). Emerging evidence indicates that getting people into housing as soon as possible with coordinated support is the most effective strategy in ending homelessness. Gordon (2009) explains that a central principle of housing first is that ‘social services to enhance individual and family well-being can be more effective when people are in their own home’. A number of new initiatives are being implemented based on housing first principles: The Brisbane Common Ground initiative, which will house and support rough sleepers A supportive housing service in Townsville for rough sleepers, primarily Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples Street to Home services, which support rough sleepers and those experiencing chronic homelessness to transition to stable housing. Many housing first initiatives, such as those described above, target rough sleepers and/or people experiencing chronic homelessness, but the principles of housing first can be incorporated into other parts of the specialist homelessness service continuum with different target groups. These principles include: Accessing housing as quickly as possible, with ongoing support provided to establish and consolidate the new tenancy. This will require good working relationships with a range of housing providers. Minimising moves between multiple short-term accommodation arrangements Providing tenancy sustainment support to keep people housed Working with other service providers to deliver coordinated services once housed Connecting clients with mainstream services to provide ongoing support directed at helping them to sustain their tenancy Facilitating connections to local community and social supports to build community connectedness and reduce social isolation. A housing first approach is in contrast to a stepped or pathways approach where people move through crisis to medium term or transitional accommodation prior to achieving sustainable housing where support usually ends. This is similar to a treatment first model which temporarily accommodates people while they undergo a treatment or support program prior to graduating to permanent housing. Supportive housing is a form of service delivery commonly linked with the housing first approach. Supportive housing combines two elements: the combination of safe and affordable housing with integrated support. The housing first approach underpins many supportive housing principles, however, not all supportive housing uses a housing first approach. Supportive housing developments can be tailored to groups other than the chronically homeless, such as people with disabilities or mental illness. Supporting people for as long as they need should not mean that support is only provided while a person is accommodated with a service. Future service delivery models will be more flexible, allowing support to follow clients once they exit the accommodation to ensure that their new tenancy is established and successful. This is also in keeping with a housing first approach which aims to house people as quickly as possible with the necessary support to maintain the tenancy. Case management practice and the skill set of the specialist homelessness service’s workforce will need to reflect this stronger orientation to resolving and supporting a sustainable housing solution as a priority for specialist homelessness services. Homelessness Programs will be exploring with service providers whether funds for support in medium/long term accommodation could be applied to providing/coordinating post-temporary accommodation support to people who have been housed either in private rental or social housing. This part of the service system could then provide tenancy sustainment support for people exiting the temporary supported accommodation system. Freeing service providers from tenancy and property management would increase capacity to support more people. This would also ensure more successful tenancies for people who have experienced homelessness and would allow for more flexible support that follows the client rather than being tied to specific properties. Specialist homelessness services should focus efforts on enabling rapid access to permanent housing and providing or coordinating initial post-temporary accommodation support using relevant mainstream services, where possible to take up post-accommodation support in the long- term. There are some people who have an ongoing need for personal and social support that cannot be met by a specialist homelessness service. It is essential that specialist homelessness services connect people with the appropriate long-term support through mainstream and allied services such as mental health or disability services and community facilities like neighbourhood centres. It is acknowledged that there is a lack of affordable and appropriate housing in some parts of Queensland and this is even more difficult for some clients due to their specific situation, for example people with poor rental history or large families. Services will need to actively work with local real estate agents and other housing providers, including social housing and community housing providers, to get a successful housing outcome. The department acknowledges the efforts of many providers in finding and accessing housing in the current tight market. Implications of Housing First approach New funding In terms of new service responses, Homelessness Programs will provide funds for service delivery models that are best able to support people to access housing as quickly as possible and then provide support and agency/community connections to sustain the tenancy. In the future, Homelessness Programs will only fund temporary supported accommodation services that are able to both support people while they are accommodated, and have the capacity to provide and/or coordinate post-temporary accommodation support (mobile support) for people after they have exited to housing in order to establish and sustain their tenancies. This is similar to the follow-up support provided by many services now, but in future it will be built in, more extensive and will be based on duration of need. It may not be necessary for the supported accommodation service itself to provide the mobile support because it may be provided in partnership with another service provider, but the service model or local service system model will need to identify and incorporate post-accommodation support where it is required by the client. Existing services For existing services, Homelessness Programs will be working with service providers to clarify their role in the provision of support and whether temporary supported accommodation as a step before housing best suits their clients or if there is another way to do this – partnerships with community housing providers doing tenancy management for housing and using the private sector, freeing up support workers for more mobile support. Homelessness Programs will be working with services to ensure that case management is led by meeting the housing needs of clients as a priority focus – for example that exit planning and necessary applications for housing assistance are commenced early. Implementation of a housing first approach Homelessness Programs is implementing an evidence based approach to program management that incorporates housing first approaches in service delivery. Evidenced based service delivery is being implemented through the transition to output based funding for specialist homelessness services, which should be completed by 2012-13.
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