The key to the door

In 2021, PIELink and Housing First England ran a series of workshops on the compatibility of Psychologically Informed Environments and Housing First. Here, Robin Johnson tells us what we’ve learnt so far……. 

They tell me that anyone writing a blog post – like this – should aim to be direct and personal, writing as if the reader was right there in front of you. 

That’s intriguing to me. It seems to say that creating a relationship is the one thing that you must do, from the outset. Whatever your point, you only get to make the point once you’ve first got the engagement. 

How apt, I thought, for an invited blog on Housing First and Psychologically Informed Environments, where we now all say that it’s the relationships that you form that are central to any success[i].

The core principles – what they call the ‘non-negotiables’[i] – that define Housing First as an approach are based on research, and quantifiable outcomes, that are sound. But the stats just don’t capture, and they could entirely miss, the central importance of the relationship. That’s a finding we have had to come to from experience, in practice[ii].  

In fact, I’m tempted to go further. I suspect that the things that make Housing First work are the things that you can’t quantify[i]; and these are all the things that we had attempted to spell out, with the PIEs approach.  Central to PIEs are five key themes:

  1. Psychological awareness
  2. Staff training and support
  3. Learning and enquiry
  4. The three Rs (Rules, Roles and Responsiveness) 
  5. Spaces of opportunity 

But within each theme, we can then drill down to specifics that zoom in on the practice of HF.  

For example, the  ‘Learning and Enquiry’ theme includes ‘reflective practice and action learning’; also what we call ‘sector engagement’, to learn from other agencies what is working, and what not; and then ‘evidence generating’: developing and sharing more widely the emerging evidence base.

More relevant still, the ‘Spaces of opportunity’ are central to HF.  Here we have the built environment; and if, in HF, it is the home that is the key environment, here is where we can compare and share learning on approaches  and ways to make it really feel like a home. But let’s also look at ‘Surroundings and networks’, that can help ground a sense of belonging, and help in finding new opportunities. 

Most of all, let’s get pro-active about tackling the ‘Systems and pathways’ with which we work – the gaps and barriers, the coherence of the systems within which we must navigate for individuals, and advocate for improvement for all. 

In a recent webinar[i] we had talked more about the relevance of these all five themes to Housing First and how they may be used to capture the work of building relationships.  Over the course of 2022, with Housing First England, I propose to pursue this through an on-line working group – the ‘Housing First as PIEs’ Special Interest Group : HERE. 

So if this is something you and your own services might like to be invited and contribute to, just drop us a line to :

[i] PIElink lunchtime forums:

[i]  Robin Johnson, They do things differently there: PIEs, HF and the New Social Psychiatry :

[i] Homeless Link, Housing First – the non-negotiables :

[ii] Alex Smith, Balancing principles in practice, Homeless Link: 

[i] Jo Prestidge,  It’s all about relationships, HomelessLink: 

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