Safe as Houses: An Inclusive Approach for Housing Drug Users

By: Steve McKeown  Published: May 2006


Safe as houses identifies the housing needs of drug users, offering both insight and good practice recommendations for this vulnerable group.


Summary

The housing needs of drug users are currently attracting a great deal of interest across different disciplines. This report by the Shelter Street Homeless Project argues that a number of important issues need to be addressed if all drug users are to benefit from this focus.

Drug use and homelessness are often seen as almost inextricably linked, but despite widespread acknowledgement of this, many drug users continue to have difficulty in accessing appropriate housing and support. While some would argue that many drug users are directly or indirectly excluded from much housing provision, others believe that it is illegal to house continuing drug users and that some problematic drug users are 'too difficult to assist'.

This report looks at the validity of these perceptions. It argues that only by providing a range of accommodation and support for continuing drug users, as well as abstention-based or drug-free environments, can the needs of drug users with different patterns and levels of use be met.

Innovative Projects

The report provides information on seven innovative projects. These work with a harm reduction approach, to house continuing drug users whilst acknowledging and managing the risks, including drug use on site. These projects demonstrate that when this approach is properly managed and underpinned by key principles of good practice it is legal, safe and effective.

Sinclair Project, Leeds
Managed by Leeds Housing Concern, the project provides housing and support for single homeless drug users. It has 33 bed spaces in 23 well-maintained, dispersed properties. Support is accommodation based with floating support also available to a small number of service users.

Wallich Clifford Community, Cardiff
Provision includes a night shelter, direct access hostel, community houses for people with a dual diagnosis, a street drinkers project and a project for ex-offenders. With the exception of the night shelter, all projects will work with on-site drug use and will distribute paraphernalia.

New Steine Mews, Brighton
This is a 20-bed hostel for people who have recently been sleeping rough. The project has 3 distinct areas: a harm reduction area for users in pre-contemplation; a preparation area for those beginning to address their drug use; and an action area for those engaged in structured treatment.

Single Homeless Project, King's Cross
SHP provides hostels, shared houses and floating support across London. All projects will accept drug users, with the King's Cross hostels specifically for people whose primary need relates to ongoing drug use. Service users often have histories of rough sleeping and exclusion from other projects. Drug use is primarily heroin and cocaine but also often poly-drug use and alcohol.

In Partnership Project, Blackburn
Managed by Manchester Methodist Housing Group, this project provides high-quality housing and support to 16-25 year old women in housing need who have ongoing substance use problems. Residents often have multiple and complex needs and include care leavers, offenders, sex workers and survivors of abuse.

St. Mungo's projects, London
St Mungo's manages 1,434 bed spaces in 72 generic and specialist projects across 11 London Boroughs. They have a specialist in-house substance use team providing support to residents and generic staff across the projects. The team has developed triage and comprehensive assessment procedures together with in-house needle exchange and prescribing facilities.

Julian Housing, Norfolk
Julian Housing provides various housing and support services for people experiencing mental ill-health, including outreach, floating support and supported housing. They have developed protocols to cover joint working arrangements with other housing providers, where outreach staff visit service users in their own tenancies.

All the projects above will give access to problematic and continuing users and use a harm reduction approach to acknowledge and safely and effectively manage risks, including drug use on site, whilst encouraging engagement with treatment.

The report shows that such an approach can be safer than many of the alternatives:

  • for the drug user, whose use is acknowledged and managed to minimise the risks
  • for staff, who receive training and work to clear internal policy and practice
  • for other residents, whose safety can be protected by competent and confident staff
  • for the community, as this approach can facilitate a reduction in illicit public use.