Tuesday, 3 May 2022  |  Reading time:  12 mins  | Read online

Housing first: Ending rough sleeping

Each week we focus on a different global topic, highlighting innovative content and insights from LGIU and our members around the world.  

After steadily worsening for more than a decade, in many countries homelessness became an unexpected ‘good news’ story amid the Covid-19 pandemic as many governments found the political will to nearly end rough sleeping. However, as temporary conditions and surge funding end, people remain at risk once again – and in greater numbers thanks to the cost of living crisis and financial hardship. 

While no nation has ended homelessness entirely, there are countries who have come close, such as Finland, Japan, Singapore and Austria. While not all places with favourable homelessness rates use the same methods, a ‘Housing First’ policy does accompany a good number of the success stories. Rather than conditional housing support, Housing First sees housing as a basic right and holds true that solving health and social problems is much easier with a permanent home. 

However, the same lack of affordable or available housing contributing to homelessness in the first place can make it difficult to move households off the street or out of temporary accommodation, making this approach easier said than done and potentially costly – especially for local or regional governments lacking the significant up-front funding needed.

Looking globally there are interesting solutions to be found and questions to explore. This week, we've asked whether tiny house villages can be part of the solution, taken a deeper look at Finland's success, and reported on Denver's success in using social impact bonds to fund a Housing First program.

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This week's featured content

Tiny houses: a neat homelessness solution or a reminder of the problem?

By Kat McManus, LGIU

As the ‘self-built tiny house tour’ genre of videos remains highly popular, it’s easy to see the appeal of these dwellings, with their cool space-saving tricks, sustainability and minimalist-yet-cosy interiors. Perhaps most importantly, we’re drawn to the accompanying assumption that they deliver a life free from the modern trappings of debt and rent, feeding into fantasies of a simplified life and with just a humble space to call our own.

While this fantasy is nothing new for society, recent upticks in interest in tiny houses and van/bus conversion homes are probably in large part an expression of the plight of generation rent and others crippled by the global housing affordability crisis. But can these tiny houses actually contribute to alleviating housing security for those who need it most? Or is the popularity of tiny living just a symptom of the crisis’ severity?

In Seattle, where homelessness is a major problem, tiny homes have seen success in relieving rough sleeping. Sharon Lee, executive director of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute, started the project after finding a loophole where structures smaller than 120 feet were not considered permanent dwellings, making them exempt from restrictive regulations on residential buildings.

More than 300 of the fully electrified, heated and decorated tiny houses have now been built, each costing around $2,500 and taking 3 days to complete. The villages have been one of Seattle’s most successful harm reduction supports for people facing homelessness, sparking national interest in similar projects. However, talks to scale up the developments to hundreds more houses have provoked backlash that they are a 'victim of their own success'.

So why might tiny houses not be a silver bullet?

LGIU Global Local Highlights


Home is where the heart is: international perspectives on resolving homelessness

In this international briefing, we consider examples of how different countries are working to resolve homelessness. It touches on the Housing First model, as well as other initiatives that countries across the globe are implementing in their quest to end homelessness. 
Read this briefing here.

Housing First: a solution for homelessness in Scotland?

This briefing explores Housing First as a possible solution to rising levels of homelessness amongst society’s most vulnerable citizens. We look at current trends in homelessness prevention in Scottish policy-making and set out what local authorities can do to aid the transition towards a Housing First approach. 
Read this briefing here. For more information on rapid rehousing in Scotland, click here.

All in the numbers: using evidence and data to inform homelessness prevention

This briefing provides background and context to the Centre for Homelessness Impact’s End It With Evidence campaign, which aims to use the opportunity presented by the pandemic to “mobilise a growing chorus of ‘what works’ champions” so that we can end homelessness effectively, and for good, by putting in place sustainable and evidence-led strategies. 
Read this briefing here.

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe

Kenya: 3D printing utilised for large affordable housing project

Mvule Gardens in Kilifi, Kenya, is one of the largest 3D-printed affordable housing projects in the world, with 52 units. Built by a partnership between Holcim, 14Trees (The number of trees saved by the method) and MASS Design Group, the houses use 3D printed concrete as a load-bearing cavity wall to be accompanied by a timber roof. The walls can be put up in just 12-18 hours, massively cutting build time, while embodied carbon can be reduced by up to 70% and overall build costs by 20%. 
Construction Kenya

USA: Denver uses social impact bonds to fund successful Housing First program

A five-year program evaluation by the Urban Institute has found Denver’s Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond initiative to be remarkably successful. Participants provided condition-free housing and wraparound supportive services saw reductions in police contacts and detoxification facility visits, and after three years, 77% remained in stable housing. The program’s social services were covered primarily upfront by social impact bond investors, who were repaid by Denver based on the program’s outcomes, limiting risk to taxpayer funds.
Urban Institute

GLOBAL: Vanguard cities seek to end homelessness

Since 2017, a select number of cities have signed up to the Institute of Global Homelessness’ (IGH) mission to tackle rough sleeping across the world. Cities such as Adelaide and Edmonton were recognised as “Vanguard Cities” as part of the IGH’s A Place to Call Home initiative, tasked with working toward goals related to ending or reducing street homelessness by 2020. 13 participating cities received guidance and support in their task from the IGH and access to a global network of cities working on the same task. The initiative was found to be successful in reducing targeted aspects of street homelessness in over half of the cities. Glasgow and Sydney fully met their self-defined targets, while Greater Manchester recorded a 52% reduction against baseline.

Interested in more LGIU content?

Global Local Think Tank Review

This month’s edition focuses on housing and planning issues in the wake of Covid-19 along with the latest research on Covid-19 recovery in a variety of areas. There are also reports covering extremism and war in light of events in Ukraine and some insights into water infrastructure from the US.
Click here to read.

Policy & Resources

Research, analysis and examples of policy in practice from leading institutes and places like yours.

Research: Tiny house village research & how-to guide
This document provides an accessible and nuanced picture of life in tiny house villages across the US through a profile and case study of each village and its stakeholders, culminating in a how-to-guide of best practices for the creation of future villages.

Case studies: Housing First & Women – Case Studies from across Europe
Due to lack of visibility and low engagement with homelessness services, many vul­nerable women are less effectively served by home­lessness services and are more likely to be left without support. Evidence shows that women have both different pathways into homelessness and different needs; these case studies exemplify how housing-led approaches can be very well integrated with gender- and trauma-in­formed approaches to support.

Lessons: 10 Years of Housing First in Turning Point Scotland: Key Messages 
In this document, Turning Point Scotland reflect on 10 years of building Housing First services across 6 local authority areas to share 9 key considerations for anyone looking to undertake similar work.

Review: Housing First in Europe: An Overview of Implementation, Strategy and Fidelity 
This overview of the development of Housing First in 19 countries in Europe examines to what extent it is present in local, regional, and national strategies and homelessness programmes, providing a broad overview of fidelity to the model and the scale of service provision. 

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we'll be looking at the pressing issue of extreme heat.

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