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Idea Exchange: How we tackled rough sleeping with Housing First

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Julia Pitt, director of Croydon LBC’s Gateway homelessness service, explains why the council has embraced the Housing First approach

Project name: Housing First in Croydon

Objective: To fast track rough sleepers into housed tenancies as a first option directly from the street

Timescale: The project will last two years before review

Cost to authority: Fully funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative - £160,000 per year

Number employees working on project: Three operational staff for the period of two years

Outcomes: Housing 10 rough sleepers with current outcomes of 100% tenancy sustainment

Officer contact email:

Rough sleeping has long been a problem for countless politicians and administrations across the country. On one autumn night’s street count in 2018, there were 4,677 people bedded down on England’s streets. This was 165% higher than in 2010.

At Croydon LBC, we knew we had to tackle this by thinking strategically and in partnership with others. In response to government welfare reforms, we had already set up our Gateway service three years previously to successfully focus on preventing homelessness by tackling debt issues, including people’s rent arrears, sorting their welfare and benefit issues and boosting their job prospects.

One aspect that is central to making this work here in Croydon is support from the council’s leadership, both senior officers and councillors. Their backing has made this possible, from establishing Gateway as an innovative joint council department working on early intervention and prevention to supporting those at risk of homelessness by boosting local housing supply.

Crucially, Gateway colleagues had also secured Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government trailblazer funding in 2016 for our community connect scheme where we worked with voluntary, community and faith sector partners to help struggling families locally through London’s first combined welfare and food club.

Now we turned our attention to our most vulnerable rough sleepers.

Long-term rough sleepers often face a constant public services revolving door, whether that is in and out of a hospital bed, custody suite or supported housing. Keeping them in a stable setting therefore means there are wider social and financial benefits.

We already had a good grounding by having an existing network of local partners and contacts. Croydon was the first place in the UK to join the European End Street Homelessness campaign, the goal of which was for participating European cities to tackle chronic street homelessness by 2020. The council was already a member of this campaign’s local operation, CRZero 2020, which found that a lack of suitable accommodation was a barrier to the borough’s most entrenched rough sleepers moving on.

After identifying this gap in our services, the council and partners decided to explore introducing Housing First, which gives rough sleepers with high needs and a history of entrenched or repeat homelessness the right to a home of their own. There they receive flexible, open-ended wraparound support that caters for any medical or counselling needs on the sole condition that they maintain their tenancy.

When the opportunity arose to bid for rough sleeping initiative funding from MHCLG, we decided to try and plug gaps in our services, and this included Housing First. We were successful in securing around £500,000 in funding for 2018-19, and we got to work very quickly. Within the first six months of operation, we had given a stable home to 10 long-term rough sleepers.

We have since also received a similar funding pot for 2019-20, meaning we can continue this work with an extra 10 former rough sleepers in a relatively short period.

Thamesreach, our outreach response service, monitors and establishes the needs of rough sleepers in Croydon. Its team of three people works with shared caseloads not greater than seven clients, with each receiving a wraparound support service. We could have very easily placed them within a standard housing team, which focuses on placing people into all sorts of accommodation while also ring-fencing up to six Housing First units. The reason we didn’t do this is that these are some of society’s most vulnerable people, so supporting them requires a service with smaller caseloads and suitably experienced staff.

The chief obstacle is the former rough sleepers maintaining their tenancies. When someone has been used to sleeping on the streets for years, they could be forgiven for viewing a home of their own and interventions from council staff and partners as a hindrance rather than a help. One of the ways we are addressing this is through a peer support group being set up by Thamesreach.

The plan is to expand the use of Housing First beyond 2020. The CRZero 2020 partnership has pledged a number of units via Evolve Housing + Support and Optivo, another local housing association. The council and Thamesreach are building relationships with various housing providers so that different types of accommodation are brought forward, including housing association homes and those in the private rented sector.

Housing First could be the answer to tackling entrenched and chronic rough sleeping, and so far, we have every reason to believe it is working. The service has a tenancy sustainment target of 75% for two years which would result in 15 former rough sleepers being safely housed long term.

Smooth partnership working is central to day-to-day operations, as well as being able to convince Whitehall that investing its money in our initiative will be money well spent. In the longer term, we will have a better idea of the money saved across the board as a result of getting each former rough sleeper the help they need.

Giving some of our most vulnerable people not just a roof over their heads but a sustainable future is key if we are to properly tackle chronic rough sleeping. In Croydon we have very quickly taken the first steps towards a major Housing First project, which is making a real difference in the way we address long-term homelessness.




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