HVO Querido Discus is a Housing First service based in Amsterdam. The service follows the eight core principles of Housing First but places a lower emphasis on a recovery orientation. The Housing First service is run by an NGO and is fully funded by the Netherlands government. The focus is on homeless people who have both mental ill health and show problematic drug and alcohol use. The service is one of the oldest in Europe, having begun operations in 2005. Social housing is provided through cooperation with a housing corporation based in Amsterdam. It has expanded rapidly over the last decade; by 2015 the service had 45 support officers, 4 team coordinators and two project leaders with a caseload of 275 Housing First service users. No limit was set on the size of this Housing First service.
Homelessness is increasing across Europe, with the exception of Finland. In Amsterdam there are 186,000 social housing units -the average wait for these is 11-15 years. 90,000 people are actively searching for affordable housing and an estimated 70,000 more homes are needed in the Amsterdam region.In the Netherlands, the ‘staircase model’ is the dominant approach to homelessness.This means ‘treatment first’ for homeless people, and/or moving them through a series of stages before they are ‘housing ready’. Housing First is radically different -it moves homeless people into permanent housing as quickly as possible with on-going, flexible and individual support for as long as it is needed, but on a voluntary basis.
Costs will continue to be covered by the Social Support Act, which most Discus clients are legally entitled to and covers all support costs. Due to the success of the approach and increased requests, they will continue to deliver training courses and share their model across Europe. For specific projects, they have been successful in fund raising, e.g. ERASMUS funding to tackle loneliness.
Discus’ goal is to end street homelessness, empower people, respect their choices, help them modify harmful drug and alcohol use,and support them to participate in society again,in away they choose to. They do this by focusing on prevention; sufficient and suitable housing; healthy and caring neighbourhoods; and learning and monitoring.They start by providing the basic needs, safety, a home and basic care; and then support clients to make decisions about how they wish to improve their lives.
The biggest challenge was getting the municipality on board with the project. But now, after many years of not being understood, Housing First is more widely accepted as Discus has demonstrated its positive impact and involved the municipality in every development. This has led to the continuing expansion of the model in the city and the change in Amsterdam’s homelessness policy. Focusing on the Housing First principles and its methodology continues to be challenging. Finding the right employees, who are committed, flexible and creative, is not always easy. It was also difficult to get treatment and support separated in their approach –they want to see clients as people rather than patients. Discus staff work closely with local communities to educate and explain the nature o fits clients, to attempt to alleviate potential complaints.
Discus Housing First started on 1 April 2006 and in that time, they have housed over 600 previously homeless people. Early in 2019, the 1,000th Housing First unit in Amsterdam was opened, which are provided to clients of Discus, alongside other organisations. Discus contacts clients’ neighbours and families -if the client agrees -as they can play a vital role in encouraging them to be a part of society as much as possible.Clients worked with Discus to change housing policy in Amsterdam. Joint presentations were made to the local municipality, which included powerful stories of their positive journeys. The Housing First model became local policy in 2017.
Discus believes that a home is the first necessity as it provides the foundation and boost to overcome other challenges and achieve desired goals. A particular feature of the Discus approach is how relationships are established between support staff and clients who receive a combination of opportunities, care and commitment, developed from the staff/volunteer/client relationship. Any standard procedures, protocols and systems are used to support them.The Discus vision is a combination of the strength-based model and the eight Housing First principles.The Discus DNA-a guide on the attitude and conduct all Discus employees and volunteers are expected to have -is interwoven in their approach. It includes passion, involvement, equivalence, flexibility and creativity.
The Discus strength-based approach has six basic principles:
Discus has innovated new tools usually by prioritising the most urgent topic they are dealing with. For example, loneliness has been an ongoing issue for a significant number of clients. After working on a range of approaches they developed a pan-European project to bring together good practice, share ideas and develop a toolkit.