12 Nov 2020

How do we deliver effective accommodation interventions for people experiencing homelessness?

As winter falls upon us it can be tempting to believe that, for people experiencing street homelessness, any shelter is better than nothing at all. However, the evidence in our latest publication – Accommodation-based programmes for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness: a systematic review and network meta-analysissuggests that the provision of very basic services without support could do more harm than good for the people receiving them. For those experiencing street homelessness, the results indicated that those who are only offered very basic provisions – such as a bed and food for the night – may find themselves worse off in the long run than those who remain on the streets. 

On the surface this may seem shocking, but given a second look, it makes clear sense. Offering someone one night of respite without any wraparound services, medical care, advice from trained staff or long-term planning to keep them off the streets is a system designed to plug a gap in that moment. It is not designed to be a permanent fix that addresses both the causes and effects of an individual’s homelessness.

Of course, this does not mean we should leave people on the streets – simple adjustments to the services we offer people in emergency accommodation can make them more effective. From day one we should always be looking towards a more permanent solution for that person. We know from the evidence that most people don’t need an emergency-housing stay. By working together, community support services, homelessness service providers and charities, local authorities, and housing providers can make positive and lasting change for people experiencing homelessness.

In the medium to long term, we should be looking at tackling and preventing homelessness based on what we know works. Support tailored to the needs of the person receiving it can improve housing stability. In fact, our systematic review found that in the US, interventions offering the highest levels of support alongside unconditional accommodation such as Housing First and Rapid Rehousing, were more effective in improving housing stability compared to basic support. If we invest in the rigorous evaluation of these types of programmes in the UK we will build up a picture of what interventions will move us towards a future where any experience of homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring.

There is also a financial argument for moving people from emergency housing into longer term accommodation. Our Housing Cost Calculator shows that transitioning people from emergency accommodation to other kinds of temporary and permanent accommodation could result in significant  cost savings for local areas, money that could be reinvested into improving homelessness prevention. We also know that, for both private and social landlords, supporting one stable tenant or household to maintain their tenancy is far less expensive than the cost of evictions, voids and re-letting a property.

So, what does this mean for housing providers? It’s crucial that landlords, and everyone providing services to people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, are offering unconditional tailored support services and a case management approach which allows for any issues to be picked up and dealt with quickly.

It is also crucial that relevant data is collected and reviewed often, so we can start to build up a picture of what causes tenancies to fail and how this can be prevented. Working with other providers can help, as information sharing helps us to build a better understanding of the causes and effects of homelessness, and how we can apply that knowledge to developing more effective services that are of genuine benefit to those who need them the most.

Our full systematic review on accommodation is available to read here. We hope it provides you with some valuable insights. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the team.

Written by Dr Ligia Teixeira

Dr Ligia Teixeira is the CEO of the Centre for Homelessness Impact.