Housing First with Bob Jordan

As part of Homelessness Week 2019 Shelter WA was honored to bring keynote speaker Bob Jordan to Australia. Mr Jordan is the National Director of Housing First a part of the Government of Ireland's Housing First National Implementation Plan which is rolling out Housing First tenancies across Ireland.

Currently there are 10,253 people in Ireland, including 3,449 children who were officially registered as homeless in May 2019.

With international knowledge and expertise in the implementation and scaling up of the Housing First model it was with no surprise that Bob’s workshop was a popular event. Everybody was keen know the ingredients needed to not only implement but to make the Housing First model central to government policy.

[L-R] Lived Experience Advisor Allan Connolly; National Director, Housing First, Republic of Ireland; Bob Jordan.

Before moving into his presentation Bob acknowledged how special Homelessness Week had been to him as someone observing it for the first time.

“We don’t have this in Ireland, in fact I can’t think of anywhere in Europe where we do have it,” said Mr Jordan. “When people are so busy doing, doing, doing, under pressure in delivering homelessness services, having one week of the year where you are pausing and thinking about strategy and how we do things next seems to me to be so important.”

After going through the definitions of the Housing First, and the extraordinary success of the programme in ending homelessness for people who have experience chronic round sleeping by providing permanent housing, with wrap around support, Bob’s presentation touched on how the policies and process needed to implement and scale up the Australia. Showing a photo of the launch of Housing First in Ireland Bob identified the Irish Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.

[L-R] National Director, Housing First, Republic of Ireland; Bob Jordan; Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy and Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo Credit: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie.

“Can you visualise your Minister for Homelessness, Minister for Housing and your Minister for Health standing forward and launching a plan for Housing First in Western Australia?” Bob asked. Bob said, “it requires that (Ministerial) buy-in at that level.”

What is critical in a Housing First approach is understanding the drivers of homelessness. International research shows for around 78% of people experiencing homelessness just need access to a house that they can afford. Around 10% experience homelessness episodically often associated with mental health and other drug issues. Around 12% are chronically homelessness, needing serious, long term support. These are the people that cycle in and out of shelters and homelessness services. These are the people for whom Housing First works to end homelessness.

Implementation requires the buy in and alignment of stakeholders. This includes the Department of Housing, the Department of Health, health services, local authorities and community services.

The workshop heard that transitional housing is no longer part of the service system in Ireland. Key to the success of the implementation of Housing First in Ireland was the establishment of an independent non-profit organisation to transform social service reform. This independent entity, Genio, holds a service reform fund which includes significant investment from government, philanthropists and the community sector. Based on an action research model they ensure reform is informed by a strong evidence base and focuses on early innovation to system side change. Information on Genio can be found at https://www.genio.ie/our-work.

“This keeps us honest,” said Bob. “What is interesting about putting private money in the mix is that sometimes the philanthropic organisations can ask the hard questions of government. Even a small amount of money can make a huge difference and they’ve made a very big impact on this program.

From here Bob outlined how Housing First targets were derived through an audit of need. The audit identified the amount of people sleeping on the streets across Ireland who had mental health and addiction issues, how many people are the long-term users of emergency accommodation and a survey was conducted of every homeless service.

Once identified each local authority provided units to house those people with health service wraparounds. The commitment of housing units was based on the number of people identified in each area who qualify.

After the targets were identified a process of scaling up took place. It included evaluating that each local consortium understood what the Housing First approach was, then funding allocation was approved under the Department of Housing and Health with each region putting the Housing First Program out to competitive tendering.


Participants workshop with Bob Jordan.

A total of nine tenders were allocated in total. From there training of the consortia, action research, in the form of shared learnings and finally the evaluation of progress took place and is ongoing.

Bob Jordan then paused his presentation so we could hear from Mr Sam Knight from Ruah Community Services via a video call from Adelaide. Sam outlined the work of the 50 Lives 50 Homes project which involves 28 partner organisations from a range of sectors, including homelessness services, housing agencies, health providers, mental health and community services.

An update was also provided by Sam on some of the Housing First related work being done in Perth particularly with the Built for Zero concept.

The Housing First approach is embodied in Built for Zero which comes out of the United States. It supports participating communities to develop real time data on homelessness, optimising local housing resources, tracking progress against monthly goals, and scaling proven strategies. One of the defining components of Built for Zero is real-time data, collated in a By-Name List, which helps to make a coordinated response to rough sleeping and work towards ‘functional zero’.

Functional Zero is best thought of as a point on a spectrum towards ending homelessness – or reaching Absolute Zero – in each context in which it is applied. The model allows/requires that communities determine their own plan with regard to how they define ending homelessness and the homeless population(s) upon which they focus.

Many organisations in Perth have now joined together to see how they can build this model, so we know where the homeless are at any given time and how they are moving out of the homelessness system.

The WA Zero project which incorporates a By-Name List providing a real-time list of all people experiencing homelessness in an area.

Founder and Executive Director of Pathways to Housing, Sam Tsemberis joined the workshop by video link from Los Angeles. 

The final session involved a Q&A Workshop hosted by Bob Jordan and Sam Tsemberis. Dr. Tsemberis founded Pathways to Housing in New York City in 1992 based on the belief that housing is a human right. He is currently participating in national studies of homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, and has published numerous articles and book chapters on these topics, including the Housing First Manual (Hazelden Publishing, updated in 2015).

Participants spoke to Dr Tsemberis directly with questions relating to Housing First including how to engage with government to embed this into policy, how he addressed any NIMBY issues.

Shelter WA Chief Executive Officer said the workshop was an extraordinary opportunity to speak with both Bob Jordan and Dr Tsemberis, two international experts, on the embedding of Housing First into policy and practice.

Watch Bob Jordan's presentation here.

Participants at the workshop.




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