Chief Exec's Blog - Put Housing First?

node leader
13 May 2016

Put Housing First?

The election of a new Mayor for London brings fresh hope for those struggling to find suitable and safe accommodation in the capital. The housing agenda was a top priority for the mayoral campaign reflecting the far reaching housing challenges facing those who live and work in London.  Sadiq Khan has declared his commitment to social housing in a current national political environment that poses significant challenges to social housing providers.

The mayoral campaign has also provided an opportunity for those concerned with the more socially excluded to set out an agenda that calls for assertive action to tackle homelessness. The Lead London Home campaign supported by a range of homelessness organisations has made calls to the new Mayor for specific targeted funding to support interventions that tackle homelessness in the capital.

An expert group led by Crisis and supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing has called for the Government to take action to prevent homelessness. The report calls for a change to homelessness legislation to give local authorities more responsibility to prevent homelessness and to support a wider range of people.

And at Phoenix we are acutely aware of the need to focus on homelessness solutions.

Fear of stigmatising homelessness is stopping us facing the facts

Fear of stigma, and claims of the homeless being ‘undeserving’, prevent us at times from setting out the hard truth, we can’t deny the facts:

  • 41% of homeless population are drug users or in treatment [1]

  • 27% of opiate using clients present to treatment either homeless or in housing need [2]

  • 13% of opiate users in treatment report as being in acute housing need 6 months after entering treatment

That doesn’t mean that everyone we pass on the street is in the depths of an addiction. But for many addiction will be what has led them to the street and for others using substances will make it more bearable to live there.

Phoenix is a substance misuse treatment provider and a Housing Association.  That gives us a unique position of straddling the addiction and housing sectors. What 47 years of supporting people to recover from addiction has taught us is that whatever the cause of their addiction for anyone experiencing addiction and homelessness, accessing treatment and achieving recovery needs targeted evidence based housing approaches that support each stage of the addiction treatment pathway.

No one action will solve the issue

The key for many in achieving and sustaining recovery from addiction is being able to access specialist housing that supports their recovery journey. The stigma experienced by people with addictions means mainstream housing, or non-specialist supported housing, often works against positive recovery.

The solution is a tapestry of treatment provision and housing models that reflect the need and aspiration of people as they move from the street to fully engaged and contributing members of our communities.  There is room for innovation of course but the complexity of need we are addressing means we have to route our approaches in evidence.

Housing First has been shown be to a good harm reduction intervention and alternative to homelessness for people with alcohol dependency. Different interventions are required for people with drug addictions who need more intensive support than the 3 hours per week the Housing First models typically offer.

Our unique position of being both a substance misuse provider and a Housing Association enables us to provide recovery friendly housing that supports people throughout the different stages of their recovery journey. We can add capacity and specialism to local housing provision with tailored housing ranging from residential treatment to independent living.

  • Like our family service that allows mums and dads and to address their drug issues whilst still looking after their children

  • Or our new specialist womens service in London that provides a safe gender specific environment and programme to help women with some of the most complex needs bring stability back to their lives.

  • Or our recovery houses that allow people to live together supporting each other through mutual aid and peer support.

It is undoubtable that housing and homelessness are climbing the political agenda. Let’s hope that whatever the politicians decide that nationally and locally we are all able to work together to deliver the range of solutions that meet the needs of those we seek to help. The cost of not doing so is too great.


Karen has 25 year’s experience in the housing and substance misuse sectors. She is the Chief Exec of national substance misuse charity and housing association Phoenix Futures. She is also a past trustee of Drugscope, current Chair of Collective Voice and Chartered Member of the Chartered Unstitute of Housing CMCIH. She is frequently invited to contribute to governmental inquiries, regularly speaks at conferences and writes on topics of substance misuse, homelessness and related subjects.


[2] PHE – Adult Substance Misuse Activity 10/5/16


Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).