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Seven years of housing first: a success story

The city of Helsingborg first implemented the Housing First method seven years ago. Since then, the number of homeless per 10,000 inhabitants has fallen sharply. The programme, introduced by researchers at the School of Social Work, has also brought about additional positive effects for socially vulnerable groups in Helsingborg. This is shown in a new report, written by Arne Kristensen and Marcus Knutagård.
Marcus Knutagård speaking in front of a small audience, in the Lund Public Library.
Marcus Knutagård giving a lecture on homlessness in the Lund public library, in 2015

According a report presented by the The National Board of Health and Welfare in late November, the number of homeless people has increased in Sweden. The increase applies to all categories: those who sleep rough, those who live in the shelters and those who move around in temporary housing. But in Helsingborg, the development diverges from the rest if the country's. Seven years ago the city decided to try the Housing First method, an approach that researchers at Lund University have found to be an effective solution to homelessness. For almost 10 years, researchers from Lund have been actively working to raise awareness among social workers in Sweden and offering help in implementing the method .

What is Housing First?

The method briefly centres on the following:
• Permanent housing is a prerequisite in order to address other possible problems. First, a home of your own, then other means of care or support.
• Homelessness is first and foremost a housing problem and should be treated as such.
• Homeless people enter the regular housing market to get a stable housing situation.

"Our research on Housing First has shown that it is a very effective way to solve the homelessness problem," says Marcus Knutagård, researcher at Lund University School of Social Work. Of the residents who were offred permanent housing, 85 percent managed to keep it. The result is entirely in line with earlie attemps in other countries.

Today, barely a tenth of the tenants in Helsingborg's support housing unit are in Housing First apartments (35 of 411 places). However, the approach has indirectly had positive effects even among those living in other types of housing.

"Helsingborg City has together with the researchers and residents in various housing social efforts developed an ambitious programme. In summary, it will increase the tenant's autonomy, and also allow them to be involved in planning support measures," says Marcus Knutagård.

Among other things, social workers and formerly homeless people have taken courses in social entrepreneurship at the School of Social Work. This has led to a former homeless person being employed as a support worker for others who have recently found permanent housing.

The city of Helsingborg is now looking at the possibility of scaling up the Housing First project by incorporating it into all social housing efforts.

"Thanks to the city's purposeful efforts to combat homelessness, our employees and our committed residents with their own experience of homelessness, we now see clear results. It encourages us to take the next steps in scaling up Housing First,", says Social Director Dinah Åbinger, who has been involved since the beginning.

"In the city's vision document, 'Helsingborg 2035', we have written: 'This is a city of equal opportunity.' Permanent housing is a basic prerequisite for a good life. Therefore, we must continue to work for permanent homes for all," said Ann-Christine Borgman (The Green Party), chair of the social council in Helsingborg.

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Lund University
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