Our homelessness approach : housing first – housing inclusion

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Our approach to homelessness: “Housing first”

Our approach is based on the provision of a complete support package for homeless people.

Our approach is:

  • a field-based one, ranging from meeting homeless people to carrying out advocacy activities vis-a-vis the European Union’s institutions;
  • and vice versa, i.e. taking full account of studies, reports and working documents from the European Union’s institutions, including those from the European Commission in order to draw upon these for our fieldwork.

Our Organisation is one of the few European Organisations to include members who have themselves been homeless and who have managed to overcome their situation of social exclusion, and other members who are still homeless today, based on the definition of the term in European law.

The first-hand knowledge and input from these homeless people has proved extremely practical and valuable in helping us to fight social exclusion and promote social inclusion where homelessness is concerned.

1/ The definition of the terms “homeless person” and “social exclusion” in European law.

No single definition of the situation of homeless people (referred to as “homelessness” in European law) has been adopted by all Member States of the European Union.

In some countries, the term “homelessness” is still limited to the most visible and needy category of “rough sleeping” homeless people, i.e. those spending the night outdoors. This definition does not take account of persons of no fixed abode living in homeless hostels or in extremely precarious housing conditions or in insalubrious accommodation, nor those facing the imminent risk of becoming homeless due to the fact that they are living in transitional or extremely precarious housing, which for all intents and purposes equates to homelessness.

During the 2010 European Consensus Conference, the member states of the European Commission agreed on the “ETHOS” definition (European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion) which is the European Union’s definition of housing-related exclusion.

This definition is derived from the physical, social and legal interpretation of what a “home” actually constitutes.

It defines the four following life circumstances as a definition of homelessness or extreme forms of housing-related exclusion:

1. Rooflessness (people living rough and people in emergency accommodation) ;

2. Houselessness (people in accommodation for the homeless, in women’s shelters, in accommodation for immigrants, people due to be released from institutions and people receiving long-term support due to homelessness) ;

3. Insecure accommodation (people living in insecure tenancies, under threat of eviction or violence) ;

4. Inadequate housing (living in unfit housing, non-conventional dwellings e.g. in caravans without adequate access to public utilities such as water, electricity or gas or in situations of extreme overcrowding).

Germany, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom already use a wider definition of the notion of homelessness based on the ETHOS definition, but in numerous cases this definition excludes category 4 of ETHOS as described above.

Belgium, France, Hungary, Ireland and Portugal use a narrower definition for their policies and a wider definition for research objectives and calculations.

Austria, the Czech Republic, Spain, Greece, Italy and Poland use a narrower definition while Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovenia have not yet adopted a standardised definition.

(Sources: European Commission staff working document confronting homelessness in the European Union, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/FR/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A52013SC0042)

2/ Differing approaches to combating homelessness

Among the European Union Member States, there are two possible approaches to promoting the social and professional reintegration of homeless people:

  • an approach focusing on “Housing first” and foremost, referred to as the “Housing-led homelessness strategy” which is well established in DENMARK and in FINLAND ; in the United States, this approach is also referred to as “Housing First”;
  • a step-by-step reintegration-based approach referred to as the “Staircase system” which involves getting the person off the street through the provision of emergency accommodation, followed by precarious or transitional accommodation and finally by long-term accommodation. This is the policy used in most European countries.

According to studies carried out by the European Commission, this second approach is widely criticised as it encourages long-term homelessness and obtaining long-term accommodation can take years, which is extremely costly for the local authority.

Our Association has therefore chosen to opt for the “housing-led homelessness strategy” approach, which is reputed throughout Europe for its effectiveness.

This approach applies in principle in FRANCE, although in reality it is not applied operationally.

(Sources: European Commission staff working document confronting homelessness in the European Union, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/FR/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A52013SC0042)

3/ Meeting homeless people – Rebuilding social links

During our work in the field, we place the emphasis on:

  • a pragmatic approach to homeless people including those who are now highly desocialized, refusing all direct or indirect help from the public authorities and the administrative services;
  • a multidisciplinary approach to homeless people in view of the complexity of each individual’s situation;
  • an individualised approach on a case-by-case basis, fully aware of the fact that each homeless person has their own personal circumstances and will have been affected by one or several negative life events (job loss, separation or divorce, exile, etc.) and that he or she may not necessarily speak our language (migrants from countries outside the European Union, persons who are citizens of other European member states, etc.);
  • a legal approach backed by specific studies, including in particular the reports and working documents from the European Commission and its related bodies.

Meeting people out on the street is a central part of our activities.

To do so, we first set about creating a dialogue-friendly environment with a homeless person, based on the values of trust, a willingness to listen, sharing, informality and sometimes even humour because humour is something that some street people have in abundance. Laughter is the first step towards trust and towards rebuilding social links shattered by personal turmoil and solitude.

This dialogue-friendly environment is positive as it places the priority on meeting people and makes it possible to restore that all-important social link, which is a prerequisite to any form of social and professional reintegration.

“The minute you begin meeting people, you become a professional”, explains Patrick ROUYER, the manager of the SIAO in Paris, a former national FNARS delegate and former social activities manager for the EMMAÜS association (from the book “Brut de Charité”, page 97).

The members of our association are trained to respect territory in the street, viewing this as the homeless person’s “home”.

This dialogue-friendly environment may be based around a free meal distribution truck or a bench in the street, or in a dirty caravan or sat on a cardboard box with a homeless person.

Everything is possible, nothing is impossible: flexibility, humanity and pragmatism are key factors for success, supported by our commitment and professionalism.

4/ The road to social inclusion

Next, once trust and confidence have been restored, we are then in a position to carry out a detailed analysis of the person, showing respect for him at all times, including his previous professional situation, his current financial situation, his current requirements, his possible status (past, present or future) as a disabled person, in addition to his social and emotional situation.

We make use of innovative initiatives which have proved their worth, such as:

  • the concrete experience in France of the “Collectif des SDF de LILLE” association (Lille Homeless Collective), which has rehoused 156 homeless people over three years in the city of LILLE, FRANCE, by focusing its attention on getting them out of emergency accommodation and prioritising their placement in long-term accommodation with private landlords;
  • the concrete experience in the UK of the “Sock Mob” Association in LONDON, which allows for the professional reintegration of homeless people through salaried employment, by providing guided tours for tourists through the streets of LONDON, these being streets with which the homeless are very familiar.

Long-term accommodation creates a feeling of security, something which helps the person to rebuild himself and his life.

To this end, we carry out:

  • either one-to-one interviews, with a view to achieving professional reintegration, with flexible resources and objectives varying according to the available budget (private donations from donors) and which include among other things help with drafting CVs and cover letters and physical support during job interviews;
  • or, depending on specific situations and needs, one-to-one support for referral to other partner Associations or initiatives run by the public authorities (the European Union, the State, local authorities or local social welfare Centres).

The task is a long, slow and progressive one requiring specific support, tailored assistance and an individual home to provide a feeling of security.

Through better knowledge of the previous career details, professional capacity and current professional needs of the homeless person, we seek to bring about a virtuous circle from a societal viewpoint in the following ways:

  • with the homeless people: enabling them to achieve long-term professional and social reintegration in the job market, by finding work;
  • with companies and associations: encouraging recruitment by identifying the professional profiles of persons in difficulty who may qualify for assisted contracts, subsidies or exemption from payroll taxes. Examples of such contracts in France include the CUI-CAE, CUI-CIE, or CIE Starter for the youngest homeless persons;
  • with the local authorities, the State or the European Union: facilitating the development of the social policies employed, by improving the employment rates of homeless people and reducing the economic cost of a homeless person for the local authority.