'Housing First' model should be adopted to tackle Northampton homelessness says council report

The council report recommends adopting the Housing First model, and also setting up a publicity campaign around giving money to rough sleepers
The council report recommends adopting the Housing First model, and also setting up a publicity campaign around giving money to rough sleepers

The growing number of rough sleepers in Northampton could soon be helped with a new ‘housing first’ model - if the borough council’s cabinet listens to new recommendations.

A specific homelessness panel set up by Northampton Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee has recommended that the council adopt the model, which has proved a huge success in other countries such as the USA and Finland.

It would see rough sleepers given accommodation relatively immediately without required conditions having to be met, other than maintaining their tenancy.

Currently, homeless people have to meet certain criteria to be eligible for housing, while other organisations offering accommodation may insist on drug or alcohol tests. But the change in policy would see housing come first, which would then lead to other potential problems in a person’s life being sorted.

Councillor Sally Beardsworth, one of the members of the panel, said: “This would be a big change, and things won't improve overnight.”

The final recommendations of their report, which has been gathering evidence for a year, were agreed at The Guildhall last night (May 21).

Evidence considered included a briefing paper from Shelter on ‘best practices’. The paper states: “Housing is a basic human right, not a reward for clinical success. Once the chaos of homelessness is eliminated from a person’s life, clinical and social stabilisation occur faster and are more enduring.

“Immediate (or relatively immediate), permanent accommodation is provided to service users directly from the streets, without the requirement of assessed housing readiness.”

The potential adoption of the model has proved a popular idea with some of the groups and organisations that were called to the meeting, although it is far from definite that it would prove a success.

A representative from Midland Heart, which currently houses the Hope Centre at Oasis House, said: “Housing First has proven successful in other countries and has the potential to succeed locally. However, it should not be considered a panacea. Where Housing First has been effective, it is because homelessness has been recognised as more than a housing problem and interventions have focused on addressing underlying issues.”

Other recommendations within the scrutiny panel’s report include setting up a publicity campaign to discourage members of the public from giving money to people who are begging, and instead donate to the organisations that can help homeless people.

Councillor Cathrine Russell admitted: “It’s a very difficult message for the public to absorb, because it’s what people do.”

Councillor Zoe Smith added: “That message needs to be a positive focus saying to people here’s how you can help make a difference. It can’t come across as judgemental otherwise it will get a very negative reception from the public.”

The recommendations of the report will be presented to the borough council’s cabinet when they meet in July.