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    It is more important than ever that we know what ‘Housing First’ means, and that we know the impact it can have.
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Delivering the Housing First Wales Accreditation

Our Housing First Policy & Practice Co-ordinator, Alex Osmond, writes about the Cymorth’s recent accreditation webinar, including his experience of  working with Conwy and Denbighshire Housing First over the past year, and considers what other Housing First projects can expect if they undertake accreditation. 

A few weeks ago, Cymorth Cymru hosted a webinar about the Housing First Wales Accreditation process. During the webinar, we were delighted that the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, was able to award the first ever accreditation to the very deserving Conwy and Denbighshire Housing First project.

You can catch up with the webinar here and also read the final report I wrote (in English or Welsh), detailing the accreditation process and the evidence I read, saw and experienced.

The report outlines in detail what the accreditation process looks like, something I also discussed during the webinar. As such, I wanted to talk a little more personally about how I worked with colleagues to develop this process, and what it felt like to actually, well, do it.

What did the accreditation process look like?

I started at Cymorth Cymru just over a year ago, and realised immediately that the accreditation process needed to be accountable, transparent, and challenging, if it were to mean anything.

We settled on a process that oriented around two clearly distinct types of evidence: documentation – anything from policy documents to email exchanges; and interviews – which would involve me talking to staff and clients, about their experiences of the project and how it worked to align with specific principles.

It probably says a lot about me that documentation about Housing First and well-delivered support strikes me as fascinating! For the Conwy and Denbighshire accreditation, I was sent a wide variety of documentation, created within and outside the project itself. Because evidence is given a basic score, taking into account whether it only comes from the project itself, or from other stakeholders too, it was good to see a wide range in the materials I was sent.

We’d deliberately decided to look at documentation first, so that principles that weren’t so well-evidenced in documentation could be specifically followed up during interviews. It makes sense that some principles would be harder to evidence in documents, but easier to speak about – ‘flexible support’ comes to mind, for example.

Connecting with people

I also wanted to make sure interviews didn’t feel too scripted, and that they informal and not daunting – not seen as a ‘test’. Sometimes, when I got in touch with people about the interviews, I sensed a bit of caution on their part. I needed people to be as honest as possible, about issues as well as successes. To help this process, I sent people some sample questions before interviews, but not a full list. I set people at ease, as best I could, and encouraged openness – it seemed to work.

The discussions I had with local authority and project staff, as well as with clients in and around Rhyl were incredibly moving, detailed and insightful. I learned that the people who have had to make a mental journey, as it were, to understand Housing First can be its biggest advocates. I also learned that people delivering statutory services for people experiencing homelessness can envy the freedom and creativity that are at the heart of Housing First. This really highlights to me how the principles of Housing First can, and should, influence other models of support.

Similarly, I saw first-hand the lengths that support workers will go in order to ensure clients feel supported and at home in their accommodation.  I drove around with members of staff as they explained what the area was like and where different clients lived. Clearly, houses were dotted around a fairly large area, according to the clients’ choices. I heard, consistently, about how important strong, trusting relationships are between clients and members of staff.

I wanted to say a big thank you to Sue Stevenson, who manages the Conwy & Denbighshire project, and her excellent team, as well as the other organisations involved in delivering this project.

The future for Housing First Wales accreditation

Looking ahead to accrediting other projects, it is already clear to me how different accreditations will ‘feel’ – the documents will be different, for example. Sample support plans look very different even as they try and do similar things. The accreditation process is sure to be varied, and that’s exactly what one would suspect of Housing First projects.

We have also learned a lot about the accreditation, and how we quantify (or can’t) ‘choice’ and ‘control’. Additionally, we’ve also started to look into how we ensure services are truly strength-based, and that we work to ensure clients have the best choices available to them and can work to understand them properly. The first accreditation has taught me a lot about how to explore these issues with other projects.

Speaking of which, I’m already going through this process with another two projects – projects in very different parts of Wales, working in different contexts. The accreditation will no doubt develop as it proceeds – as will the delivery of Housing First across Wales. Given the current situation, and the recent release of funding, it is more important than ever that we know what ‘Housing First’ means, and that we know the impact it can have. I do, because I’ve seen it.

If you are interested in learning more about the accreditation process, and how to get involved, please email alex@cymorthcymru.org.uk.

 

 

 

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© Cymorth Cymru 2020
Company Registration No: 5093332
Charity No: 1116774