‘Housing First’ is a model that is being taken up around the world for addressing many of the challenges of homelessness. The basic idea is that best outcomes are found when people are provided with access to affordable and supportive/ed housing first, and other problems are addressed secondarily (such as addictions, mental health challenges, family discord, physical health challenges, employment, etc.). This is a part of the shift that is outlined in the London Community Plan on Homelessness as a move away from ‘managing’ homelessness to prevention and rapid rehousing.
However, as Stephen Gaetz recently pointed out, this can be a challenge when affordable housing stock is low. How can we have ‘housing first’ if there is no housing available? A quick look at the wait list for housing in London shows that for regular individuals it is around 9 years, and for those identified is urgent around 3 years. What Professor Gaetz concludes is that we do need to continue with housing first models, but these need to be system-wide so that enhancing social housing is a part of the strategy. This is why it is very positive to see the City of London and the housing division as active partners on the London Homeless Coaltion. Both prevention and rapid rehousing are the answers to the bottleneck of homelessness, and both require more concerted efforts in developing social housing.