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The Principles of Housing First – Part Three

Housing First Part Three

Author: Stephen Willis, Service Coordinator, VOICES


This edition will look at the last 2 principles of Housing First whilst continuing to discuss any aspects of them which Housing First England consider ‘non-negotiable’ and which separate the model from other types of support service. You can find discussion of the other 5 principles on the VOICES website as below:

Part one of this series can be found here

Part two can be found here


Principle 6: The service is based on people’s strengths, goals and aspirations

Underpinned by a philosophy that there is always a possibility for positive change, seemingly small changes (e.g., turning up for an appointment, buying something for the home or expressing an interest in trying something new) can be significant markers of progress.

Individuals are supported to:

  • Identify their strengths, goals and to develop resilience in other areas.
  • Develop the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their goals
  • Develop increased self-esteem, self-worth and confidence
  • Integrate into their local community, to begin building relationships outside of the homelessness sector. And also make links with people with lived experience who can show that recovery is possible and offer a different type of support (Peer Mentors)

The way that the Housing First Fidelity Guidance describes this principle reminds me of the solution-focused culture that we practice at VOICES:

“Focussing on the deficits of a person rather than their strengths will not motivate them to change their behaviour and prevents the opportunity to build resilience and reinforces low self-worth. By helping them to identify and work towards their dreams we can build individuals’ resilience, hope and self-esteem.”

This can also extend to the way assessments and support planning is handled, focussing more on exploratory discussion rather than sticking wholly to rigid questions or box ticking.

Holding the people we support with unconditional positive regard can influence the person to begin to see themselves in a positive light and increase their self-worth. This can extend to their past actions too, rather than focussing on what has gone wrong, try to identify what has gone well and consider can more of that be done? Attempt to flip perspectives: repeated attempts at detox are not failures but show persistence and resilience.

Hold the hope that people can reach their goals and provide encouragement and opportunities to learn when things do not go to plan.

This approach can be effective for people who have experienced multiple disadvantages when more conventional support work has not had positive results. Working within multiple disadvantages is a ‘non-negotiable’ of Housing First, as is low caseloads which enables workers to have more time to commit to this approach.


Principle 7: A harm reduction approach is used

As one of the non-negotiable aspects of Housing First is that it caters for people experiencing multiple disadvantages there are often dangerous habits or practices that the person may be engaged with e.g., abusing substances or other forms of self-harm. Moving into a new home will not make people instantly change; there may be reasons as to why someone might not yet want to engage with services or become abstinent i.e., they are still dealing with past trauma in the best way they know how to. Therefore, a holistic approach should be used to reduce immediate and ongoing harm whilst aiming to improve well-being in other areas. A person may not be ready to stop using substances, but they can be supported to use them in a safer way whilst being supported to address other areas of their life, for instance benefit issues. Reducing harm whilst tackling smaller problems may in turn relieve some of the stress that the person is feeling and contribute to them being more ready to tackle the bigger problems in their life.

‘Non conditional access to service’ is a non-negotiable aspect of Housing First and so there is no expectation that a person must change, however staff can still take a proactive and encouraging approach to inform customers about local services and support to access them when ready.

Like in Principle 6, support staff believe that change is possible, supporting them to identify the steps required for change

You can find more information on the 7 Principles here, more about the ‘non-negotiables’ here and the guide to delivering a ‘high fidelity’ Housing First service (one which adheres to the 7 principles and the ‘non-negotiables)  here.

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