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Housing 'first' to help the homeless

By Adrian Curtis

A pioneering scheme to get vulnerable people off the streets is to be rolled out in Cambridge.

Cambridge City Council, in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, is to introduce a new deal for vulnerably-housed and homeless people in the city, which will give them a faster and more effective way out of homelessness.

Known as ‘Housing First’, it takes a different approach to getting people off the street.

New project to help the homeless in Cambridgeshire
New project to help the homeless in Cambridgeshire

Under the current phased approach used for decades, rough sleepers are given first-stage accommodation, usually a short-term assessment centre or night shelter, then move to a hostel. Finally, when they can live independently, they are moved into a place of their own.

Experts say this approach works for some people, but it has the potential to lock people into a never-ending cycle of homelessness and temporary accommodation.

Housing First is aimed at getting people straight from the streets into their own tenancy, moving them from the pavements to apartments and bypassing time spent in hostels.

Starting in the United States before being picked up in Europe, most notably in Finland, Housing First has achieved good results where the conventional approach has failed.

Most schemes reported a reduction in residents’ drug or alcohol use and anti-social behaviour, coupled with an improvement in their health.

The Cambridge programme includes some novel elements. In a partnership arrangement between both councils, an ambitious target to have 10 vacancies filled by October has been set, and a dedicated worker has been employed.

Proposals are also being developed to build six cluster units comprising two self-contained flats and one flat for a caretaker. The first of these should be ready in 2020.

Cllr Richard Johnson, executive councillor for housing at the city council, said: “Housing First is a new deal for people on the streets of Cambridge. Housing First will not work for everyone, and initially, until properly evaluated, may not be available for everyone it might benefit. But it does give us the chance to help change the lives of people who don’t want what has formerly been on offer. ”

Cllr Anna Bailey, chair of the adults committee at the county council, added: “This approach can benefit the whole of Cambridgeshire and we are exploring Housing First and other models to make sure we get the right approach to fit different parts of the county.”

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