Housing Agency launches new National Office for Housing First
– Housing First programme aims to tackle long-term homelessness and provide holistic supports for those with complex needs –
A Housing First National Office has been launched today (02.03.22) by The Housing Agency, which also announced the appointment of Rob Lowth as the new National Director for the Housing First programme.
Housing First aims to eliminate homelessness for people with a history of rough sleeping and long-term use of emergency homeless accommodation, who have complex needs around mental health, substance use, physical health, and other social and behavioural challenges. It provides direct access to permanent housing, together with intensive housing and health supports delivered mainly in the person’s home.
The Housing First National Office is a new national directorate based at The Housing Agency, which – under Mr. Lowth’s leadership – will be responsible for coordinating and driving a national, cross-Government approach to Housing First, as set out in the ‘Housing First National Implementation Plan, 2022-2026’. Working in partnership with local authorities, HSE, NGOs and Approved Housing Bodies the office will:
- Support regional and local delivery of the Housing First programme;
- Oversee performance on the achievement of agreed Housing First targets; and
- Evaluate the processes used in implementing Housing First in Ireland.
Ireland’s Housing First programme is based on the Pathways Housing First programme, which was developed in New York in 1992 by Dr. Sam Tsemberis – as a response to the needs of people who were sleeping rough and who had severe mental health problems that necessitated frequent admissions to psychiatric hospitals
Launch of Housing First
Dr. Sam Tsemberis was a special guest at the launch of the new national office today, alongside Darragh O’Brien TD, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and Frank Feighan TD, Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and National Drugs Strategy.
Commenting at the launch, Minister O’Brien said:
"’Housing First’ is one of the key responses in ending long-term homelessness among those with complex health and mental health needs. It provides the most vulnerable of our homeless population with a home for life as well as with key wraparound health and social supports. It is a key tool in our armoury in helping those who are at the sharpest edge of homelessness.
Under the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021 a target of 663 tenancies was set. By the end of 2021, this target was exceeded with 756 tenancies created. The new Implementation Plan 2022-2026 has an expanded target of 1,319 new tenancies over the lifetime of the Plan. I am determined that we will meet this target and we will seek any and all opportunities to exceed it.
The new Housing First National Office under the experienced leadership of Mr. Lowth will bring together all the relevant support services, ensuring there is greater cooperation and coordination in tackling homelessness. I want to wish him every success in his new role.”
Minister Feighan said:
“I strongly support the establishment of a Housing First National Office, to drive the achievement of the target of 1,300 tenancies. Housing First puts people who are long-term homeless at the centre of government policymaking and requires our public services to prioritise and respond in a person-centred way to those with complex health and social needs.
The Housing First national office builds on the excellent collaboration between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Department of Housing and local authorities. It is my intention that a dedicated Dept of Health/HSE person will be part of the national office.”
Commenting today, Bob Jordan, Chief Executive Officer of The Housing Agency, said:
“Housing First is about supporting people who have experienced rough sleeping and long-term homelessness and providing them, first and foremost, with a permanent home, backed up by a range of intensive visiting supports tailored to each person’s individual needs. The establishment of this new Housing First National Office within the Housing Agency will help to drive forward the Government’s targets to provide a minimum of 1,319 additional Housing First tenancies by end 2026, bringing the total number of people supported under the Housing First programme to around 2,000 individuals.
“Rob Lowth has extensive experience in delivering services to people experiencing homelessness. Previously, he served as Head of Homeless Services for Limerick City and County Council. We are delighted to have him on board as the new National Director for Housing First, and look forward to drawing on his expertise in the coming months and years to continue to provide sustainable, permanent homes for the most marginalised people affected by homelessness.”
Background to Housing First
The programme is based on the belief that people experiencing homelessness and struggling with mental illness or addiction should not have to prove they are ‘housing ready’ in order to avail of housing supports. It has three main components:
- The provision of permanent, affordable housing;
- Dedicated, tailored case management and treatment services for each individual (for example, access to mental health, health and addiction services, as well as housing supports); and
- A programme philosophy based on client choice and recovery.
In Ireland, Housing First commenced in Dublin in 2011, following a successful pilot, and the programme has been rolled out nationally since 2018. Nine regional Housing First services – spanning every local authority and HSE Community Health Organisation area in the country – have had responsibility for implementing the programme, with statutory agencies collaborating with NGOs on local service delivery. These nine regional services will now be coordinated and supported through the new national office for Housing First, overseen by the National Housing First Implementation Group.