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Homelessness as unfairness

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‘Housing First’ approach to homelessness has proven benefits for recovery and integration

Despite being amongst the wealthiest regions of the world, homelessness remains a problem within the EU. HOME_EU’s ‘Housing First’ model represents a paradigm shift for integrated social intervention and an opportunity to rethink community life.

Society

There are approximately at least 700 000 homeless people sleeping rough or in emergency/temporary accommodation per night across the EU. It is argued that for long-term homelessness to be tackled effectively, it should be considered a social emergency. Only when viewed as a life-threatening condition will genuine efforts be made for a more inclusive society. The EU-supported HOME_EU project set out to empirically highlight a ‘theory of justice’ approach to homelessness. This is based on an individualised and permanent Housing First (HF) angle, combined with recovery and social integration support. The project offered comprehensive supporting evidence from different countries for the solution’s viability.

Housing First under the microscope

HOME_EU conducted research in Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. In Spain, the HF policy has been explicitly adopted, in Portugal it has been embraced at government level and in Poland an HP pilot has been started in three cities. To better understand EU citizens’ knowledge, attitudes and practices, the project conducted a telephone survey with a representative sample. This involved 5 600 participants, 700 per country, with country-weighted samples. It revealed that 76 % of respondents thought that governments should invest more to end homelessness and 49 % were willing to pay more taxes to support the HF model. The researchers wanted to analyse the opinions and perceptions of people who are currently homeless and those who have been integrated into HF programmes. They considered benefits, service efficacy and the impact on social integration. Using surveys and interviews, HOME_EU analysed the experiences of 245 participants of 49 HF programmes across the 8 countries. They compared these findings with the experience of 292 users of 31 traditional ‘stair case’ programmes. In these programmes, treatment is prioritised for underlying conditions that could be contributing the person’s homelessness. Secondly, participants must show evidence of being ‘house ready’ or ‘house deserving’ to qualify for housing. Of those involved in the HF programmes, 71.8 % spent more time in their allocated accommodation, compared with 20.8 % in stair case programmes. The first cohort also reported a reduced need for psychiatric services, higher integration and more satisfaction with the support services made available. Through 29 focus groups involving 121 participants from 7 EU countries, the study also found that HF providers considered housing a basic human right, more supportive to recovery. A survey of 197 respondents involved in policy-making said they considered homelessness in their region to be a moderate or major problem. However, only 16.2 % reported integration of an HF model in their region. “Our varied levels of analysis show that to obtain an in-depth understanding of the complex social dynamics around homelessness and to achieve community transformation, you need the perspectives of a range of stakeholders,” says José Ornelas, project coordinator.

Transformative change

HOME_EU’s findings contribute to existing research which highlights the vulnerability of homeless people to violence, especially of a sexual nature for women. “But we showed that homelessness is reversible, using a two-pronged solution: immediate housing provision, alongside the support of a community integration team. Longer-term empowerment is only possible when basic human rights are met,” explains Ornelas. The project has been instrumental in the creation of the new Applied Psychology Research Centre Capabilities and Inclusion in Portugal. Project partner organisations have committed to assist other initiatives such as the Portugal National Housing First Network, which already has the interest of more cities. The HF model could also be relevant for other social interventions. It could help migrants and domestic violence survivors. It can also be used in the deinstitutionalisation of youth in sheltered or foster care, or for those released from psychiatric care or prison.

Keywords

HOME_EU, homelessness, recovery, integration, Housing First, community, empowerment, sleeping rough, temporary accommodation, support services

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