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Evaluation of Homelessness Prevention Innovation Fund Projects

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CHAPTER 4: HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION - WHAT WORKS?

Overall lessons about homelessness prevention

4.1 This Chapter takes an overview of all eight projects and draws out the main generic lessons for homelessness prevention practice. It draws on fuller evidence from individual evaluations where this is available.

Ensure interventions draw on evidence of the needs and preferences of communities

4.2 It is important to scope projects clearly from the outset so that they address the needs of communities, rather than what professionals want to provide or think will attract funding. An appraisal of both existing evaluation evidence and professional judgements by a broad range of partners should play a role in project development.

4.3 For example, the WISH project has found that it was ambitious to be Forth Valley wide in their reach and that this approach reflected the operational boundaries of the sponsoring organisation, rather than the needs of local women at risk of homelessness. As a result, the project found it difficult to attract people from across three large local authority areas to a project based in Falkirk.

Think about context: not everything transfers

4.4 There can be a temptation to assume that previous experience of working in similar ways will transfer to a different group or context without much scrutiny or critical analysis. The failure to consider local needs and issues more carefully by the WISH project meant that a number of other factors were overlooked in the design of the intervention that should have been taken into account in project design and planning. It was largely based on a previous project that had targeted homeless men; an evaluation of this project found that it had offered diversionary activities through football training and acted as a catalyst for positive change.

4.5 Gender issues are one example; a closer analysis of the evaluation of that project might have highlighted some of the gender and contextual differences when considering the design of a programme for women at risk of homelessness. Given that the nature of women's homelessness is different from men's 20, more explicit attention would need to be paid to the circumstances in which the women that attend the project are living, the degree and nature of the risk of homelessness that they face and how such women are intended to access the project. Asking women about what kind of activities they would like to participate in would also have led to the design of quite a different programme of activities; instead WISH admit that 'we never really found the carrot that would attract women'. They did learn that women have not got that same single powerful attractor as men through their interest in football and are more averse to group based activities. A positive development is that many of the lessons of the WISH project have been taken on board by the more locally focused successor project in Clackmannanshire.

4.6 The Tayside Accommodation and Skills Project has encountered similar issues when considering how they might extend their programme by offering their group work programme to their female clients. In this case, the project consulted with some of their potential client group and asked whether they would be interested in participating in a groupwork programme and, if so, how it should be organised and what it should focus on. It has emerged that the women are less keen on the 'group' aspect on the project and the project organisers are reconsidering how to take the project forward with women in the light of these comments.

Think about homelessness prevention as a process and an event

4.7 The prevention of homelessness does not happen in isolation from other interventions or support; an exclusive focus on a housing response to homelessness may not yield the most efficient results, rather a holistic or systemic approach is needed. Thinking about homelessness prevention as both a process and an event presents a challenge to much existing practice. The discussion in Chapter Two about defining homelessness prevention has important practical value. Linked to an analysis of need in the locality, it can encourage broader thinking about homelessness prevention to encompass both responses to crises (events) and precautionary interventions for those most at risk of homelessness (processes). A more systematic analysis of homelessness in the local context may suggest more holistic and genuinely innovative interventions that are not directly or primarily about housing.

4.8 The Glasgow Employment and Housing Service decided that young people should be given the option of staggering their transition into employment and housing, generally by the completion of a period of employment before being offered a tenancy. This was an important insight. In this context, sustaining a job was a higher order need that would allow the eventual housing solution to be sustained; it treats homelessness prevention as a long term process even with individuals who are known and who are at high risk of homelessness.

4.9 In other cases, the individuals may not be known and the risk may be less certain. Based on the learning from the WISH project, the successor Clackmannanshire project now seeks to address the reasons why people give up their tenancies; this is seen as principally about reducing isolation by building confidence and self esteem and fostering connections within the wider community. This intervention treats homelessness prevention as a community wide process where success might be seen, in the longer term, by reference to tenancy sustainment, rather than homelessness presentations.

Map the links between activities and outcomes in advance

4.10 While developing a clear link between activities and intended outcomes may often be seen as good evaluation practice at an early stage, the greatest benefits may materialise if such an exercise were an obligation of project design for funding proposals. This could help to avoid unrealistic projected outcomes, ensure that proposals are more realistic in their approach and set out a clear timeline. Plans should be expected to articulate the assumed links between inputs, activities (outputs) and intended outcomes. This should be undertaken as a collective exercise with all relevant stakeholders and should spell out the assumptions about typical pathways or links between certain activities, behaviours and the risk of homelessness.

4.11 None of the HPIF projects were required to do this in a formal way as part of their original proposals, although it does seem likely that this would have been of benefit. Whilst such a theory of change approach can still be of value as an evaluation tool, there can be a resistance to the request to spell out the links between apparently worthy activities and the prevention of homelessness. The value of this approach as an evaluation tool is discussed in Chapter Five.

4.12 In particular, a theory of change approach could help to foster better connections and understandings if the project designers are not the people on the ground that have the knowledge and professional experience to make judgments about what is likely to work in a particular context. Engagement between policy or strategy staff and practitioners responsible for delivery might help avoid possible misunderstandings or oversights when designing a potential project.

4.13 The Falkirk Anger Management Project originally intended to deliver training through group-based work with 'homeless people who have difficulties in working positively with homelessness officers to address their accommodation or support issues and who display high levels of aggression to staff'. Whilst the proposal suggested the groupwork approach would bring benefits in terms of 'reducing homelessness, especially repeat homelessness' staff did not find the group work approach to be particularly effective, or indeed practical, with the intended client group. In response, there was a shift to working on a 'one to one' basis and the project's activities largely became subsumed within the existing package of intensive support being offered to clients. While this may have been an informed and pragmatic response, it does mean that it is now very difficult, if not impossible, to assess what impact the HPIF supported activity has had.

4.14 A requirement to map outcomes in this way might be a beneficial influence on project design and support more genuinely innovative interventions and more inventive joint proposals. Funders will need to ensure that they structure the bidding or proposal process to ensure that there is sufficient time to develop robust proposals and that abortive effort is limited. This is discussed more fully in Chapter Six.

4.15 For example, the East Dunbartonshire Multi-Agency Training Tool is essentially a web based tool; it works on the premise that the difficulties of identifying those at risk of homelessness and making appropriate referrals can result from a lack of information about available resources and services. Updating and disseminating information is undoubtedly a valuable activity, and there may be some very real benefits in doing so through a web based system. But it could be argued that, of itself, the project is not particularly innovative and will not necessarily result in any of the changes in organisational culture and ways of working that can help support effective practice in homelessness prevention.

4.16 Alternatively, outcome mapping can also support more realistic and modest ambitions. The original funding proposal for the East Lothian Information Resource Pack for Women outlined an impressive range of expected outcomes for women accessing the pack which related to greater knowledge of rights, sources of assistance and clarity of expectations from services. It also suggested that there would be speedier access to support and assistance and a lesser risk of repeated homelessness. Other expected outcomes related to less anxiety about potential repercussions and greater disclosure of domestic violence to service providers to allow for more appropriate and earlier interventions. In addition, it was expected that there would be more effective partnership and collaborative working.

4.17 These are very ambitious, comprehensive and long term outcomes to be expected from the publication of an information pack. Such claims are not uncommon and are often felt to be necessary in order to get funding.

Clarify the focus of the intervention

4.18 Mapping anticipated outcomes may also help projects distinguish between primary and secondary outcomes; this may lead to a clearer understanding of the real focus of the activity and allow projects to identify what about the work they are doing may be expected to contribute to the prevention of homelessness or suggest that the necessary intervention may need to be focused on a different group.

4.19 For example, a number of HPIF projects were actually aiming to develop more effective agency systems and processes to ensure greater efficiency and enhance partnership working. In such cases, outcomes for service users or potential homelessness people are actually secondary and such projects need to think about how to measure primary organisational outcomes.

4.20 The East Lothian CAB Rent Arrears Project was based on the premise that by establishing a system to allow the CAB staff direct access to information held within the Council's various revenue systems, efficiencies in operation would arise which would be of benefit to customers at risk of losing their homes. However, the key outcomes would be expected to be seen amongst the staff in the local authority and the voluntary sector.

Address the barriers to joint working and better working relationships

4.21 More efficient ways of working and better communication and relationships between statutory and voluntary sector agencies are important contributions to prevention efforts, as well as interventions targeted directly at those at risk of homelessness.

4.22 The Glasgow Employment and Housing Service built on strong existing working relationships between the key players and high levels of professional trust and respect between the key individuals. This was formalised by the establishment of strong partnership and management arrangements. In practice, this situation enabled the housing association to accept the professional judgement of social work colleagues about which young people were suitable candidates for the project . The association had limited information about the young people and had the right to decline any placement, but the overall approach was based on understanding of the needs of the association and trust in the professional judgement of others.

4.23 A key feature of the project was that each of the partners retained clear, defined and mutually understood ongoing responsibilities for the young people throughout the time they spend with the project. Children's Services have been the Corporate Parent, Glasgow Housing Partnership retained responsibility for preventing homelessness (or meeting the Council's obligations to the young people as statutory homeless applicants) and Milnbank Housing Association was the employer and/or the landlord with a duty of care. Despite the pressures on their own services none tried to retreat from having an ongoing involvement because they felt that another service had effectively 'taken on' a client.

4.24 The project also had an impact on the workplace within the housing association that provided work placements and on inter-professional connections and joint working within the field of youth housing across the city. There have also been unanticipated further outcomes from this in the form of a new joint care leaver housing access protocol. The project has also now secured multi-agency funding to secure the continuation of the service beyond the pilot project.

4.25 The East Lothian CAB Rent Arrears Project was a modest, but innovative project that has demonstrated that it is possible to overcome attitudinal barriers, build respect and trust and establish sound professional relationships and procedures. It found ways to protect all parties whilst improving the effective exchange of information between statutory agencies and services. There have also been some unanticipated outcomes deriving from improved communication and greater knowledge of the work of different agencies. The project had to address very real cultural and attitudinal barriers to joint working. One member of the council staff acknowledged that the project has been a success but that there were very strong initial doubts that had to be overcome:

"If you want to start from scratch, I'll have to say, I'll be very honest with you and say I did not want it. It was the very last thing that we wanted.….now I must admit all of my fears have been alleviated".

4.26 This attitude was based on concerns about data protection, the ability to provide reassurance to the public that their personal data is safe and to provide protection for council and CAB staff against accusations of breaches of confidentiality. Attitudes to the voluntary sector may also be a barrier:

"Other councils maybe don't realise that CABs are quite used to audits. We're audited by various organisations, internally and externally….[but] maybe they just see us as a bunch of amateurs?"

4.27 The Tayside Accommodation and Skills Project has also resulted in the development of closer working relationships and crucially has helped forge some new ones. As a result, a wider range of activities relating to the prevention of homelessness among former prisoners is now being taken forward. In particular, the Criminal Justice Service, the Homeless Services for the three Tayside local authorities and the Scottish Prison Service are currently developing housing related protocols around the release of prisoners serving short term sentences. There has also been a visit by staff from Perth Prison to Dundee City Council's main reception point for all homeless or potentially homeless clients. The visit has given prison staff a greater understanding of the type of housing related problems prisoners may face on release and the range of services that are available to prevent or at least minimise the impact of homelessness for this group.

Be clear about referral criteria and motivation

4.28 Clarity of referral or eligibility criteria follows on from defining what is meant by homelessness prevention. A crisis-focused intervention is likely to be easier to target on those most at risk. More precautionary interventions raise a number of more complex issues about eligibility, targeting and participant motivation which some of the HPIF projects had to address.

4.28 For example, the Glasgow Employment and Housing Service developed a set of competence based referral criteria that would not be justified in a crisis-response intervention but which stemmed from a clear awareness of the potential for harming vulnerable young people by allowing them to join a scheme on which they were unlikely to succeed. Places on the project were also made available to other young people; this additional referral pathway proved to be very useful in that it helped to de-stigmatise the young people involved in the project and give it stronger ties with the local community. The achievements of the young people to date, and particularly the very high proportion that continues to sustain their placement, endorse the approach adopted.

4.29 The WISH project relied on referrals made through support agencies already in contact with women, rather than through peer networks. Attendance levels were poor although it is difficult to assess whether the programme was ever well targeted at women who were at risk of homelessness. Those attending WISH project sessions required significant input from Support Workers to initiate and maintain attendance and the lack of financial provision for this level of support led to drop-out from the programme. The successor Clackmannanshire project now targets women through local voluntary and community sector projects including those that deal with homelessness, drugs, mental health and domestic violence. The bulk of referrals are by word of mouth although local services also make referrals. The biggest concentration of membership is from former Social Inclusion Partnership areas where it has previously been very difficult to get engagement from communities. This approach to eligibility is far more loosely structured than the Glasgow example; such precautionary work will inevitably overlap with broader community development outcomes.

Address stigma - make it 'normal'

4.30 Clackmannanshire has also built on the experience of WISH by important shifts in the ways of working that normalise and de-stigmatise participation. These include offering activities on a networked or outreach basis in a more naturalistic and meaningful way. Attendance has been considerably greater than for the original WISH project.

" WISH is [now] not a place but a network. We go to them. It's flexible. People get membership cards like at the gym - not vouchers. We don't call it a programme anymore - that has connotations of drug treatment work. We go at their pace. They set their own targets at the gym. Women are able to support and motivate each other."

4.31 Some of the most effective interventions have been those that have attempted to provide as 'normal' an experience as possible for the at risk group. The Glasgow Employment and Housing Service had a strong ethos that the tenancies offered to young people should meet their needs in terms of location and be of good quality in order to maximize the likelihood of the young people succeeding in sustaining their accommodation in the longer term. In relation to employment, it was made clear to the young people that they were expected to act professionally and would be treated as any other member of staff. While allowances were clearly made in practice, expectations were also high and it was important that young people were given a genuine understanding of the work environment and what would be expected of them as an employee.

Think about the timing of the intervention

4.32 Services need to give careful consideration to both when it most effective to offer preventative services to the client group they are focussing on and also consider whether the point at which clients access their service will affect the type of service response they need. For example, the Tayside Accommodation and Skills Project originally intended to work primarily with prisoners that had just been released after serving short term sentences and focus on resilience building by helping people develop the skills that would allow them to access and sustain accommodation in the immediate term or at some time in the future.

4.33 The way this project has developed has shown the timing of the intervention to be crucial. Having listened to the feedback from their clients and looked at early attendance figures, the project concluded that offering the course in prisons before prisoners were released would be equally and probably more effective. In turn, this meant a slight shift in focus to look at avoiding immediate housing crisis on release from prison.

4.34 Equally, the Glasgow Housing and Employment Service's decision that training and housing opportunities did not have to be offered simultaneously showed a clear willingness to consider not just if, but when, it was appropriate to provide services. Most importantly they also retained a clear client (rather than service) focus when considering the timing of the intervention. .

Build and maintain strong partnership arrangements

4.35 Effective interventions are based on and can contribute to strong partnership arrangements. The Glasgow Housing and Employment Service established a clear management structure from the beginning through a Project Management Team comprising of the Director of Milnbank Housing Association, the Youth Homelessness Planning and Development Manager for Glasgow Homelessness Partnership and the Principal Officer for Development, Children and Families, Glasgow City Council. The Project Management Team largely met on a weekly basis and meetings covered a broad range of issues ranging from strategic and policy issues that affected the direction of the project through to operational, client focussed discussions. A Steering Group was also established to ensure that a wider group of key stakeholders were involved in the project and to take on responsibility for the strategic direction of the project. Milnbank Housing Association staff also invested considerable time, commitment and enthusiasm in working with the young people.

4.36 This level of commitment and involvement at both strategic and operational levels throughout the project has been an intensive input but has been important in being able to draw-on the professional experience of a range of staff with a variety of perspectives and giving a relatively small scale pilot project a high profile and priority. A dedicated project management coordinator has now been appointed to support the expansion and mainstreaming of the service and the time input of the Project Management Team is expected to diminish.

Be flexible and responsive within a broad framework

4.37 A number of the HPIF projects have demonstrated the importance of providing a flexible and responsive approach within a broad agreed framework, rather than a pre-defined and rigid service. Some were designed in this way and have reaped the benefits; others were unable to respond positively to emerging learning about what was working or not for their target group. There are lessons here also for the need for continued senior level involvement to prioritise and authorise changes to project implementation and funding.

4.38 The Glasgow Employment and Housing Service was designed to offer tailored responses that met the needs of individual young people rather than expecting their requirements to 'fit' neatly into a pre-determined package of services. Flexibility was built in. It was assumed from the outset that not all of the young people would want or need to access all elements of the project. Equally, the partners were clear that it would not be appropriate to encourage young people to move forward too quickly. Most obviously this applied to young people taking on their own tenancies before they were ready to do so, as discussed above, with all the well established risks of tenancy failure that could result. Other examples of a flexible response included responding to the need for basic literacy and numeracy support to prepare young people for the academic side of Construction Industry Training Board exams and provision of additional employment opportunities outwith the housing association.

4.39 Similarly, the Tayside Accommodation and Skills Project recognised early on in their pilot period that the work they were doing could potentially be timed more effectively and focussed slightly differently, as discussed above. After consultation with key partners they responded accordingly and there is widespread agreement that this flexibility has provided valuable learning that will support the future development of their project.

4.40 One of the lessons of the WISH project is that whilst there were some emerging lessons about the effectiveness of the approach, the programme wasn't able to adapt to that learning. There were operational and strategic management difficulties throughout the project and whilst it had been intended that the evaluation would provide feedback as the programme proceeded, in practice there was not the strategic leadership or priority given to make appropriate changes in the way the programme was delivered.

Remodel existing housing support models for young people leaving care

4.41 The Glasgow Employment and Housing Service partners found that many of the current models of youth housing support do not provide the flexibility of response required to meet the needs and challenges presented by vulnerable young tenants. The flexibility of the way that they worked allowed social work services to be able to respond to housing crises to the satisfaction of both the housing provider and the young tenants. This suggests that remodeling of existing housing support models to include some kind of workplace mentoring or adult role model elements could improve tenancy sustainment rates amongst young people leaving care.

Address barriers to access and sustainability

4.42 Part of designing a flexible and responsive intervention is to consider in advance what the main barriers to access and sustainability are likely to be and address them.

4.43 For example, one of the biggest and widely acknowledged barriers to accessing and maintaining supported or furnished accommodation are housing benefit regulations. The Glasgow Employment and Housing Service addressed this issue by using some of the HPIF monies they were awarded to provide up to £2000 for young people that were taking on a tenancy to furnish their new home. This meant they did not have to pay the service charge for furnished accommodation that would not have been met through Housing Benefit.

4.44 Tayside Accommodation and Skills Project have addressed barriers to attendance on courses by a high risk group by taking the courses to them at a time when it is likely to be of most relevance. This could well be seen as an attractive option in a prison context, but the project still ensured that attendees did not suffer any loss of earnings. This also had other beneficial effects in that it was a way of 'humanising services' by making services easy to access, easy to understand and putting a human face to them. Services can seem extremely complex to outsiders; whilst it may not be possible to change that very much, the Tayside project has shown that it is possible to package services in a particular way that make them less intimidating.

4.45 An important part of the approach for the Glasgow Employment and Housing Service was the provision of a robust and tailored package of support which included the use of work placement mentors. This will not always be appropriate for preventative interventions, but here it was a crucial to an approach that focussed on remaining responsive and flexible while seeking to offer as 'normal' an experience to the young people as possible.

4.46 Each young person was offered support from a youth support worker in setting up and managing a tenancy. This included supporting the young person to plan the use of the furniture grant and potentially to decorate their flat. This gave practical experience of budgeting and was expected to help the young person develop a sense of ownership of their new home. The support package also included the option for young people to access 'out of hours' support. The comprehensive support package provided appears to have been an important factor in encouraging a number of other housing associations to become part of the service as it is being rolled out.

4.47 In addition, all young people were assigned a work based mentor, who effectively acted as their line manager when they were at work. The contribution of the work placement mentors appears to have been crucial to the success of many of the placements. Perhaps most crucially it has provided young people with a 'non social work' adult role model, possibly for the first time in their lives.

Image by unknown artist at the Exchange Event
Image by unknown artist at the Exchange Event.

4.48 The WISH project did not anticipate the need for significant input from support workers to encourage women at risk of homelessness to attend their activities and saw the logistics and time input for support workers accompanying the women as a factor in the poor attendance rate, although other factors were acknowledged to include the fact that there was no one activity with a strong enough draw to overcome the anxiety women felt when having to travel to another area. The evaluation concludes that greater localisation of activities would help to overcome this issue and this lesson has been taken up by the successor Clackmannanshire project which is making greater use of peer networks and support.

Provide options to stay put: break the link between domestic violence and homelessness

4.49 The Safe as Houses project has demonstrated that sanctuary schemes of this type which are part of an advice-led approach to homelessness prevention can provide a valuable option for women who may be homeless due to domestic violence; women experiencing domestic violence have welcomed a chance not to have to apply as homelessness and move elsewhere.

4.50 Ensuring that this kind of option is offered more widely was seen by local agencies as an essential part of preparing the ground for the abolition of priority need in 2012. Potentially such an approach could be an important part of the response to wider strategies relating to domestic violence and community safety. SAH was aimed at existing council tenants; other local authorities may wish to explore the potential to extend the scope of such schemes to other tenures.

Make a sanctuary option core business: 'part of the way of working'

4.51 The City of Edinburgh Council have indicated their intention to develop the SAH approach solely as a response for those seeking information and advice, rather than those formally assessed as homeless. It would be an option amongst a range, not offered on a 'take it or leave it' basis. Whilst the pilot has tested the link between domestic violence and homelessness and demonstrated the value of a coordination role, if such approaches are to be more widely seen as a potential option for people seeking advice, it needs to become part of the way that generalist advisors work as part of an advice-led housing options approach. This might also be linked to the extension of such schemes to other tenures.

4.52 Such a development of this kind of approach would still need some form of coordination. The way the SAH project has worked through a coordinator or broker has been an important part of the approach. The project has worked through the careful building and managing of a range of complex and sensitive relationships at all levels; with the women themselves, with the Police, with contractors, referral agencies, specialist agencies providing advice and support and strategic partners. A major challenge in any local authority will be how to enhance the skills and capacities of generalist staff to recognise cases where this may be a suitable option and to make appropriate referrals. There is likely to be a need for training in a number of areas including risk assessments, safety planning and wider awareness of domestic violence and abuse.

Provide information about rights and options

4.53 By equipping people with a better understanding of their rights to services and in particular their entitlement under homelessness legislation some of the work being undertaken under the banner of prevention could, in fact, lead to increases in the number of statutory homeless presentations. For example, some of the clients who have been through the Tayside Accommodation and Skills Project have reported that they would now be more likely to approach homelessness services on release, and having presented would be more likely to insist they were offered the service to which they are entitled. Representatives from the Dundee Council Homeless Service have confirmed that they see this as a positive development which could contribute to achieving longer term housing solutions for a client group that has often experienced prolonged periods of unstable housing and repeat or hidden homelessness.

4.54 The East Lothian Information Resource Pack for Women was designed to promote greater knowledge of rights, sources of assistance and clarity of expectations from services, with the potential for greater homelessness presentations.