With Housing First being a relatively newer model of housing, especially in Canada, challenges can arise with regards to how to create a philosophy that follows the values of the Housing First, and how to build a sense of community among a wide range of stakeholders involved in the implementation process (e.g., health and mental health teams, other support services, consumers, funders, landlords, and peers). For example, some service team members, landlords, and other stakeholders may hold attitudes and philosophical beliefs that are antithetical to Housing First values (e.g., attitudes opposing recovery-orientation or harm-reduction) and can interfere with the atmosphere and sense of community for others associated with the program.
What are some strategies for developing a Housing First philosophy and sense of community when implementing Housing First?
1. Hiring and training processes are key elements of creating team cohesion.
When hiring staff for your project, keep in mind that value orientation is essential to creating a Housing First philosophy. It is essential to hire the â€śright peopleâ€ť. Staff members should be creative, flexible, compassionate, client-centred problem-solvers that can â€śthink outside the boxâ€ť. What are staff views on harm reduction and recovery-oriented strategies? How do staff members feel about working in a cohesive team of various stakeholders, rather than working independently? These are some key questions to consider through the hiring process. It is highly recommended to hire people with lived experience, as well as people with diverse perspectives/disciplinary backgrounds. It is also helpful to reassess team members who have not adapted to the Housing First model throughout program implementation evaluations. You might find that you have to change your team in order to ensure that staff members are a good â€śfitâ€ť for implementing a Housing First program.
Multiple stakeholders expressed their gratitude for the training they received prior to implementation of the At Home/Chez Soi project, especially since they were new to the Housing First model. Training needs to include recognition of the difficulty associated with working with participants with complex traumas (e.g., post traumatic stress), and needs to be focused on working with diverse populations, and those experiencing crises. In addition to training, weekly (or daily) team meetings have been helpful for staff members to talk openly, express their frustrations and feelings, and to feel that they are not working alone, but in a cohesive team. Create an institutional space for working through problems collectively, and implementing a â€ślearning as we goâ€ť philosophy, where bumps or setbacks along the way are viewed as learning experiences rather than failures. Housing First approaches are team-based and embrace full engagement with participants and other stakeholders who work collectively to achieve positive outcomes. Shared leadership and team structures are integral to creating a cohesive environment.
2. Ensure fidelity to Housing First philosophical principles.
While adapting Housing First programs to local contexts, it is also important that stakeholders make decisions based on Housing First principles and determine if the program is adhering to such principles (discussed later in this module). Continually assess how Housing First principles are being used, and remind all stakeholders about the importance of consumer choice in all aspects of the implementation process, as well as the importance of applying creative and motivational strategies when working with participants. For example, if a person chooses not to engage in treatment, staff is encouraged to hone their skills in harm reduction motivational interviewing, and work with the participant in learning alternative strategies for illness management.
3. Build close relationships with landlords.
Develop strong and close relationships with landlords from the beginning, even prior to program implementation. Be honest with landlords about the challenges that some participants face; donâ€™t share personal information about participants, but provide landlords with an overview of the different types of clients being supported by the program. Emphasize that there will be a strong, cohesive team that will be supporting the participant, and ensure that the team will intervene as needed, to protect the needs of both participants and landlords. A recommendation from a site of the At Home/Chez Soi project is to draw on community agencies that have preexisting relationships with landlords, because they often have an existent stock of available housing units. For example, the Winnipeg site of the At Home/Chez Soi project partnered with their regional health authority that had already established relationships with landlords, and this helped them build relationships with landlords as well. For more detailed information about initiating and sustaining relationships with landlords, click here.
4. Establish clear communication with funders
A critical element of implementation is establishing secure, honest relationships with those funding your Housing First program. Make sure that the funder(s) understand the philosophy and values of the program (e.g., if the funder expects participants to be â€śhousing readyâ€ť, they may not be an appropriate match for the program). Spend lots of time, and use creative strategies to go over the program elements, terminology, values, and philosophy with funder(s), and be honest with them from the beginning. Explain that problems should be anticipated, but can be managed effectively through having realistic expectations and engaging in collaborative teamwork.