A colleague of mine, Phil Oakley, recently said to me that BHT has its Mission Statement completely the wrong way round. He said that it should read “promoting change, creating opportunities, combating homelessness” rather than “combating homelessness, creating opportunities, promoting change”.
On Twitter I follow Felicity Reynolds, the chief executive of the Mercy Foundation which works towards ending homelessness through affordable housing and support. I have never met Felicity. She lives and works in Sydney, Australia. Such is the value of Twitter (5 years old today, I understand) that it enables me to follow the work of colleagues in different parts of the world.
Earlier today , Felicity wrote, “Housing solves homelessness. Ongoing support, when needed, sustains people in housing.” She continues, “‘Housing First’ isn’t ‘Housing Only’ . Housing comes first, but ongoing support needs to focus on client choice. I’m working towards a time when none of our fellow citizens are consigned to living long-term on a street”.
The different positions taken by Phil and by Felicity demonstrates the chicken and egg dilemma for those of us working in the world of homelessness. Should our first priority be to get somebody housed or should we be looking at the underlying causes of why they became homeless in the first place?
Most people say you should do them at the same time. I know that part of my experience has been that when someone is housed before the underlying problem is addressed, the likelihood of addressing that problem becomes harder.
The counter argument is that it is impossible to address an alcohol or drug problem or mental health issue while someone is still living on the street. I absolutely agree with that, but I’m not sure whether providing someone with a permanent home is the immediate answer. We need to get people off the street at the very earliest opportunity, but then we must address the causes of homelessness and actively promote the pace and scale of change.
That is why I like the approach taken by Phil. He says that by promoting change it allows individuals to make the most of the opportunities that exist to tackle homelessness themselves. That approach asks the question: is BHT a homelessness organisation or a change organisation? I don’t see them as mutually exclusive, but we must ensure that we don’t merely provide accommodation and support, we must continue to build on our growing reputation for promoting change.
I am interested in what others think about the pace and scale of change. At what point do we accept that sufficient change has been made that means that a tenancy is sustainable? And what consequences should there be for those who choose not to change (as opposed to those not able to change)?
In a world of decreasing resources, how do we prioritise our financial resources and efforts while at the same time, as Felicity says, reaching “a time when none of our fellow citizens are consigned to living long-term on a street”.