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Could radical Canadian and Finnish solution to homelessness work in Ipswich?

PUBLISHED: 07:03 06 May 2019 | UPDATED: 08:56 06 May 2019

Ipswich Borough Council is piloting Housing First in the town as a way of reducing homelessnes. Picture: Ian Burt

Ipswich Borough Council is piloting Housing First in the town as a way of reducing homelessnes. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

It has enjoyed international success in drastically cutting homelessness across the world, from parts of America to Canada and Finland. And now it is hoped a radically different approach to one of society's most intractable problems could work in Ipswich.

Halford Hewitt, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group, believes Housing First could make a major difference. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHalford Hewitt, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group, believes Housing First could make a major difference. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Since November last year, Suffolk's county town has been trialling the groundbreaking “Housing First” scheme invented in New York in the 1990s.

Its principle? That homeless people are given a home that is theirs, with no strings attached - regardless of the person's history or whether they have addictions.

It is still considered revolutionary by some, as homeless people are usually only allowed their own property as a 'reward' for engaging with support services and shelters first.

Halford Hewitt, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group - which is running the pilot with Anglia Care Trust (ACT) said: “As far as Ipswich is concerned, setting up such a unique project from scratch with its exacting approach has had its challenges - not least because the very essence of how Housing First works is completely different (and it is essential that it is) to the 'normal' way of working and processes.

Ipswich Borough Council is piloting Housing First in the town as a way of reducing homelessnes. Picture: Ian BurtIpswich Borough Council is piloting Housing First in the town as a way of reducing homelessnes. Picture: Ian Burt

“Putting the client at the very centre of everything that is done requires a considerable shift in attitude and behaviour by staff and systems.”

But he and ACT director of business support Jane Simpson are convinced it will work, with Mrs Simpson saying: “Give me to the end of the first year and I'll show you the amount of money it will have saved through interventions that wouldn't have happened otherwise.”

She stressed those given properties are subject to same rules as any tenancy, meaning they have to pay bills and face eviction for bad behaviour like anyone else.

“It's not like this person is being protected from the real world,” she said.

However she said: “If you've been bumped from hospital to hospital, to have a place of your own where you can choose the furniture and the colour of the walls transforms their mindset.

“They are taking responsibility for that place, rather than it just being a temporary house.

“They are told this is your home for as long as you need it.

“It's putting them first. I feel it is one of the most empowering things.”

Mrs Simpson and Mr Hewitt argue the most important part of the equation is not the roof over someone's head, but access to a support worker.

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That support worker is there to stick by them through thick and thin in finding work and integrating into society, with Mrs Simpson saying success is “to do with the intensity of the support and that someone is interested in them”.

She added: “If you've got children in a class who need extra tuition, we wouldn't think twice about giving it to them.

“These adults need extra tuition to deal with the real world.”

Mr Hewitt said: “I don't think the magic bullet is in terms of giving them a place.

“The magic bullet is staying with them, whatever they do,” although he stressed that is “not about saying it's fine if they've broken the rules”.

The scheme is not without its difficulties, as Mr Hewitt admits the project is “very challenging for landlords”, because: “You've got cope with people who may not want to follow the rules.”

In a financial climate of charities and public sector organisations tightening their belts, he also said: “What it will have to demonstrate is that we're saving money.”

And he said: “There are a finite number of people for whom Housing First will work.

“This is for people for who the normal systems haven't worked, where we've tried everything and it hasn't worked.

“The cost to the public purse of doing nothing is far higher.”

But even though the pilot has still to run its course, Mrs Simpson said: “For the people that have been housed so far, it has been exceptionally successful.

“We're all in a position of seeing what happens in the pilot.

“If there is a successful backstory and and we can see what savings were made in other areas, it is an evidence basis to apply for money.”

However she believes the pilot will achieve its goals and added: “By supporting someone to live in their own home in a healthy and productive environment, it stops them being in and out of hospital every week.

“We're working with these people to help them find positive solutions - just think of the amount that could save the public purse.”

■ What do you think of the Housing First approach? Do you think it will work in Ipswich? Vote in our online poll or write, giving your full contact details, to andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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