Alongside last month’s welcome confirmation of treatment funding until 2025, the government also announced more than £50m to provide targeted housing support for people in treatment and recovery – the first time this has happened as part of a national drug strategy.
DDN hears from OHID’s Rosanna O’Connor about the grant’s aims and ambitions.
Last month saw the sector breathe a collective sigh of relief when the government confirmed its allocation of treatment funding for the next two years – more than £154m for 2023-24, followed by indicative funding of almost £267m for 2024-25. The announcement provided certainty and allowed the field to properly plan for the future, said Turning Point’s chief operating officer Clare Taylor, one of many leading figures in the sector to publicly welcome it (www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/government-confirms-421m-treatment-funding-for-next-two-years).
The new funding would prioritise the areas with the greatest need, the government said, and enhance both treatment capacity and quality. As well as providing more residential rehab and inpatient detox places, it will also address the sector’s staffing crisis. All of this is, of course, sorely needed. But last month also saw a separate announcement of up to £53m to improve housing support for people in treatment and recovery.
According to the latest OHID figures, a sixth of all people entering treatment – and a third of those entering treatment for opiates – reported having a housing problem, and according to Crisis two thirds of people experiencing homelessness cite substance use as a reason for becoming homeless in the first place.
Everyone now agrees that good quality, stable and affordable housing is a crucial part of ensuring successful recovery, but is it something that’s perhaps been overlooked in the past? ‘Although the importance of housing in supporting recovery has been emphasised in previous national drug strategies, this is the first strategy where funding has been secured to help us understand what works,’ Rosanna O’Connor, director of addictions and inclusion at the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), tells DDN.
The funding will be allocated to 28 local authorities across England with the greatest need, and as well as allowing local areas to set up schemes tailored to their local populations it will also be monitored to help develop an evidence base.
Among the approaches chosen are specialist housing caseworkers operating from prevention hubs in Manchester, people with lived experience helping those struggling to maintain independent living in Wigan, and cross-department training to create joined-up care for people experiencing homelessness in Lancashire. Why was this chosen?
‘OHID worked closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to design a menu of housing support interventions that we thought could have the greatest impact on the housing needs of people in treatment and recovery,’ says O’Connor. Eligible local authorities were then asked to submit funding plans based on this, but with the flexibility to propose their own interventions.
‘The main categories for the menu were specialist substance misuse floating support workers and housing specialist caseworkers,’ she says. ‘Areas have submitted plans that include a range of different posts within these categories, some focusing on specific populations accessing treatment with housing-related needs, such as women or people leaving the justice system.’
Manchester’s approach is being supported because ‘we know how important it is to get support workers into the community, rather than waiting for people to be referred into their services’, she states. ‘That’s why providing floating support into a range of accommodation settings is a core part of the housing support grant. We’re funding interventions based on the need in local areas – for example in Middlesbrough, a team of specialist caseworkers will carry out homelessness assessments and provide continuity of care to people leaving prison.’ Hertfordshire, Manchester and Bristol are also considering similar roles, she says.
Recruitment and retention of the workforce is clearly a key challenge, she points out, and local authorities are being encouraged to fund training and support through the grant to ensure their staff have the knowledge and skills they need.
‘We know that integrated or multi-disciplinary teams, such as the one we’re funding in Lancashire, can provide a better offer to people through a more joined-up approach – and encouraging staff to learn from each other and network through training opportunities is a key part of that. Oxfordshire is introducing a new health and housing coordination role to deliver a programme of training across housing and drug and alcohol services, while in Bradford a training and development co-ordinator will develop and coordinate a training academy and source training, development and learning for staff working on the housing support grant.’
The programme will also be funding specialist support for people with an acquired brain injury that has been caused or exacerbated through alcohol or substance use.
However ambitious and well-intentioned this all is, however, there’s a long-standing and acute shortage of affordable housing in the UK – how much of a challenge is this going to be in terms of properly addressing the housing needs of people in recovery?
‘This is obviously a challenge that goes beyond the scope of the drug strategy housing support grant to solve,’ she says. ‘But the grant has been set up so we can test and learn how to approach providing this type of support, and we have purposefully ensured regional representation so that we can also test the impact of these variations across the regions.’ DDN