A PROGRAMME that many people believe could, with the right resources behind it, end chronic homelessness in Scotland is the subject of a conference in Edinburgh today.

The annual Housing First Scotland Conference, which I will have the honour of addressing, brings together representatives from health, housing, government and charities from all over the UK.

Housing First Scotland is based on the Pathways Housing First programme developed collectively in the early 1990s by members of an interdisciplinary street outreach team in New York City, which included this author and people with lived experience of homelessness.

Housing First expects to achieve 80%-90% housing stability for the most vulnerable groups among those experiencing homelessness – people with complex needs apart from housing and poverty, such as early childhood trauma, mental health issues and addiction.

That means people receiving a permanent home and, with support, starting to build a life that gives them a sense of belonging and integrates them back into the community.

READ MORE: Edinburgh hosts Housing First Scotland Conference

It offers an important alternative from the traditional treatment-and-sobriety-before-housing approach that has proven ineffective for the people served by Housing First.

This group is not adding to the social housing waiting list, as it has always been there but unreachable by traditional systems of care. The people who remain homeless every day and are in plain sight but seemingly invisible to the public eye.

Housing First offers housing as a basic human right, not as a reward for good behaviour, compliance, or having to prove one is worthy.

Its person-centred support services approach has produced significant positive outcomes in several randomised control research trials. Today, Housing First can be seen working in Canada, the US, New Zealand, several EU countries, and now, here in Scotland.

What I find so encouraging about Scotland’s approach to date is how closely it aligns to the original principles of choice, fairness and wrap-around support.

Typically, when programme models drift away from the core principles and practices they tend to become “housing only” and do not produce the substantial outcomes we all seek.

As Housing First becomes embedded in countries around the world, variations in the definition of the programme have emerged.

Notably, some areas have attempted to implement cheaper versions. These serve as good examples of what Housing First is not. The programme’s success depends on having adequate resources and the right values in place: empowerment, self-determination, and compassion in its approach.

Scotland’s implementation of Housing First, with the level of government support, partnership, determination and knowledge of the model that I see here, perfectly captures these core practices and values.

With this approach, an end to the most visible and acute forms of homelessness in Scotland once and for all is achievable.

Clinical psychologist Dr Sam Tsemberis developed the Housing First programme after founding Pathways to Housing in New York in 1992 to help people who are homeless and struggling with complex clinical issues.