Housing First is a partnership between local charity the Bridge Project, Bradford Council and housing providers. It is based on an international model, first developed in New York that is proving successful in helping rough sleepers with complex needs turn their lives around. Rather than the traditional approach, which is often to place rough sleepers in homeless hostels, Housing First provides the individual with their own home and tenancy, with intensive open-ended support. The aim is to give people back control of their own lives and having a stable home provides them with an environment to tackle their demons and adapt to independent living.

Chief Executive of the Bridge Project Jon Royle said: “The service has been operating in Bradford since August 2018 and so far, we have helped over 30 people with the most complex lives. Investing in this way saves the public purse money in the long run, because many of our beneficiaries have spent decades in and out of hospital, prison and homeless hostels without making substantial progress. It is a compassionate, humane response to help a small group of people who have had incredibly difficult and challenging lives fulfil their potential and gain a level of dignity that most of us take for granted”.

Michael is nearly 50 and spent 3 decades living on the streets, apart from brief stays in homeless shelters, which invariably didn’t work out because of his behaviour problems. He had a very difficult start in life which was mostly spent in care homes, where he experienced abuse that he still finds it difficult to talk about. As a client of Housing First he has managed to hold down his tenancy for 2 years and receive treatment for mental health issues and alcohol dependency. When he came into the scheme, he had pneumonia as a result of living on the streets and this has been successfully treated. Michael now attends a day centre where he has made new friends and interests and has just started volunteering as he has a strong desire to put something back into the community. “At first I had very little trust in anyone and was just waiting to die. Gradually I came to believe that my worker really cared and wanted to help. I actually cried with relief when I got my own home, you’ve no idea how it felt just being able to have my own front door between me and the world, I was frightened all of the time I was out there on the streets.”

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “Helping homeless people is an important priority for the council and we are delighted our Housing First pilot has proven to be so successful. This approach helps people with complex needs into a house and then offers them intensive wraparound support, rather than attempting to address their issues before providing housing. Housing First has proven to be highly effective in Los Angeles where it was developed so we are very pleased we have been able to make it part of our permanent approach here in Bradford.”

Housing First has been rigorously evaluated and is achieving impressive results. So far, almost all of the people referred to the scheme have managed to maintain their tenancies and stabilise their lives. The key to its success seems to be the flexible nature of the support which is gradually reduced over time as people move through the scheme. As John Robinson, the Service Manager says: “It is absolutely fantastic to see people realise their true potential and wake up with a smile on their faces. Our ethos is about giving people a hand up, rather than a handout – and don’t all of us need some help from time to time?”

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