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Social work and a different approach to housing clients with complex needs

Housing.jpgShould clients with complex needs be blocked from getting independent housing until they have ‘clinically recovered’ from mental health issues or are abstinent of drugs or alcohol?

At ComCare Live next week (register for free here if you haven’t already) I’m looking forward to hearing about projects that challenge that thinking and offer alternatives to the standard ‘transitional’ model of housing.

Gael Scott, policy officer at the Centre for Mental Health, will be running a workshop for social workers on the part they can play in helping clients with complex needs get housing. In the session, entitled Not just a housing issue: securing stable accommodation for people with complex needs, Gael will also flag up some examples of projects where clients are getting independent tenancies without going via transitional housing arrangements.

‘Social recovery not just clinical recovery’

Ahead of next week’s event I asked Gael for a quick preview of the kind of  housing projects she’ll be talking about. Here’s what she had to say:

‘One project that I’ve been looking at in particular is the Housing First model being tried out by Turning Point in Scotland working with substance misuse clients who are still using. It’s based on this idea that people don’t have to be clinically ‘well’ or abstinent before they can go into independent housing.

‘Instead you can put them into an independent tenancy at the beginning and provide them with floating support along the way.

‘That’s quite different to the dominant approach at the moment which tends to progress people through different levels of housing support as their symptoms are seen to improve. It is much more this idea of social recovery rather than just clinical recovery.’

‘We wouldn’t say that one model is going to work for everybody but the assumption that underlies a lot of current approaches is that people need to be ‘housing ready’. They have to be completely abstinent. It’s about challenging that kind of thinking.’

After chatting to Gael I thought I’d check out more about Housing First. According to the project’s website the schemes works on the principle that a permanent tenancy puts service users ‘in a better position to access community support, health care and social benefits.’

Clients in the project work with peer support workers and are able to pick and choose from a range of support on offer – including tenancy management,budgeting and food shopping.

The scheme is a three year pilot project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, so it will be interesting to see how it fares at evaluation. 

But as someone who has seen the benefits and pride a tenancy can bring to a person who has helped gain some stability in their life with the help of methadone, not to mention the enormous pressure on social housing, I’m looking forward to hearing some more about this approach to housing people with complex needs and the role social work can play in it.

Photo: Flickr (Christophe Becker)


About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at

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