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Plans for more Housing First services to be rolled out in the Midlands

The services will be rolled out in Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly.

Image: Leon Farrell via RollingNews.ie

A PROGRAMME DESIGNED to help the most entrenched homeless people get somewhere to live is expanding its services in Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly. 

Housing First primarily caters for adults, and has already housed people who would have been seen as the most entrenched, long-standing rough sleepers – those who may have been on the streets for years and completely lost touch with the system.

Many homelessness services in Ireland are geared towards a staircase model of recovery.

Under this, a homeless person would have to advance towards a home by first proving that they could live in a homeless shelter, maybe successfully complete drug or alcohol rehabilitation programmes, and essentially work their up way to a secure, permanent home.

Housing First has flipped this model on its head – with a secure, safe, permanent home with support being the primary goal; and recovery, therapy or whatever else is needed coming after that.

Westmeath County Council issued the tender on Sunday for the provision of Housing First services in the Midlands region for a three-year period. 

The Department of Housing said it will, along with the Department of Health and the HSE, fund “the provision of housing and health supports respectively in line with the Housing First model”. It has not been confirmed how much this tender is worth.

Latest figures show that there were 6,504 adults and 3,749 children – 10,253 people – recorded in state-funded emergency accommodation in May. 

Although May’s figure represents a drop of 125 people on April’s figure, it also shows that it was the fourth month in a row in which the homeless figure has been above 10,000.

Housing First in Ireland

Supply remains a constant thorn in the side of initiatives like Housing First as the lack of it in the capital is driving the price of rent up, and putting more and more at risk of homelessness.

This programme was the first in Ireland through which homeless people are given a home first of all, with round-the-clock services then provided to them. 

Following the successful pilot demonstration project in Dublin a larger project was set up. This project was delivered by Peter McVerry Trust in partnership with Focus Ireland, on behalf of the DRHE and Dublin local authorities. This project ran from late 2014 until summer 2018. Housing First initiatives then began to be rolled out across the country. 

In November, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) issued a tender worth €16.4 million for Housing First.

In June, Kildare County Council issued a tender worth an estimated €702,000 for Housing First services over a three year period.

Last September saw the launch of the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021, which aims to expand the programme across the country. 

The plan was widely welcomed by housing and homeless charities across the country. 

It aims to achieve a number of different things: 

  • Provide a total of 663 permanent, secure tenancies across 31 local authorities for people with a history of rough sleeping or long-term use of emergency accommodation with complex needs. 
  • Provide the vast majority of Housing First tenants with permanent social housing, allocated by local authorities. 
  • Ensure that complex needs around mental health, alcohol and drug addiction will be addressed with up to daily support visits delivered by housing and health support teams. 

The National Implementation Plan has a minimum target of 34 Housing First units across the Midlands over three year period. Those units are broken down as follows: 

Capture Source: Westmeath County Council

Provision of Housing First services in the Midlands will be tailored to targets contained in the plan, according to the tender. 

Some Housing First services are currently provided in Westmeath by the Peter McVerry Trust. 

The tender outlines that the Midlands Housing First project seeks to provide tenancies in scatter site – no more than 20% of units of any building – and self-contained, independent housing units for each participant. 

The service will be targeted primarily, but not exclusively, at single adults or couples, aged 18 or older, who have been accommodated in emergency accommodation for six months or more in the past 12 months. 

It is also envisaged that people considered as having no fixed abode but who are engaged with housing, homeless and HSE services will also be deemed suitable for the service. 

Westmeath County Council said in the tender that the Housing First services in the Midlands must provide for direct provision or access to a full range of treatment and support services for those being housed. 

It also outlined that housing support and intensive case management will need to be flexible and be capable of responding to emergencies on a 24/7 basis from 8am to 8pm.

The council said in the tender that it will conduct ongoing reviews, at least six monthly, regarding the Housing First caseload, in order to broker transfer of service users no longer requiring intensive supports to lower intensity and community-based support. 

“Existing housing and homeless services, such as regional case working services, will case when clients are accepted onto the Housing First programme. This will ensure that spaces are freed up for new referrals to this service,” the council said in the tender. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Housing said Housing First is being “delivered on a regional basis by the local authorities and the HSE”. 

“During 2019, contracts for the delivery of services have been put in place in the Mid-West, South-West and West regions.  The Midlands, Mid-East, North-East, North-West and South East regions are all advancing procurement processes for the delivery of Housing First across their respective regions,” the Department said.

Last OctoberTheJournal.ie asked National Director of Housing First Bob Jordan whether he thinks Housing First in Ireland will make a significant change to the level of homelessness the country is currently experiencing. 

“While we’re dealing with a narrow group of people here, the guts of 750 people to begin with, they are people with quite deep issues around addiction and mental health,” he said. 

If we can resolve it for the hardest person, then it’s pretty clear that we can create a system that works for everybody.

With reporting by Seán Murray and Cormac Fitzgerald 

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