Ministers commit to addressing chronic homelessness

Date published: 27 October 2022


Ministers Deirdre Hargey, Robin Swann and Naomi Long have met to discuss how the housing, health and justice sectors can work collaboratively to tackle homelessness for those with complex lives.

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The Ministers discussed the evidenced success of the Housing First and Complex Lives models.  These have proven very effective in sustaining housing tenancies, improving health outcomes and reducing offending.  They place accommodation at the centre of support, wrapping health and other support around it.

The Ministers therefore agreed to continue to support the Housing First and Complex Lives models.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said:

“I wrote to Ministers Swann and Long to seek the support of their Departments to tackle the scourge of chronic homelessness, which is closely linked to mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and those leaving custody.

“My Ministerial colleagues clearly share my concern and commitment to addressing this issue.  We have agreed our collective commitment to the expansion of the existing Housing First pilot and Complex Lives model. Officials will now consider how our Departments can collaborate to achieve this.”

The value of a Housing First model is that it prioritises permanent housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness from the outset with a flexible support package provided for the service users in their new home by a multi-disciplinary team.   

The Complex Lives model is up and running in Belfast with co-located multi-disciplinary teams including mental health, addiction and housing support.  It takes each person and addresses the main issue first and work together to stabilise them.  The Ministers agreed to sustain commitment to Complex Lives and use the established whole system approach as the basis for Housing First for some clients.

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“There are many factors which put individuals at additional risk and can make them more vulnerable.  The issues of homelessness, involvement with the justice system, mental health and substance use are all interrelated and span the responsibilities of several government departments in Northern Ireland.  To be effective, our response must be a collective one and my officials will continue to work with colleagues in other departments to address these challenging societal issues.

“Addressing the harm related to alcohol and other drugs is a key priority for my Department.  Our Substance Use Strategy, ‘Preventing Harm, Empowering Recovery’, recognises the need to target those most at risk, including those who are homeless, people who inject drugs and those who are in contact with the justice system.  Our strategy will aim to directly reduce the harm for these groups through actions that place emphasis on harm reduction support measures for people who use alcohol and other drugs.”

The Ministers also discussed how best to support those leaving custody more generally, to ensure integration in to the community, reducing the risk of homelessness and reoffending.

Minister of Justice, Naomi Long said:

“It is widely recognised that many of those who come into contact with the justice system lead chaotic lives with a range of often co-existing social, economic and health problems impairing their ability to lead healthy, productive lives. I recognise that the criminal justice system on its own cannot provide the knowledge, expertise or access to the services needed to truly reduce reoffending. Partnership working with colleagues in Health and Communities is vital to support individuals safely in the community and help them move away from the criminal justice system and from crime.

“The transition from prison to community living can be stressful and I recognise the need for improved access to community services for vulnerable people leaving our care. In particular, effective arrangements for discharge planning, information sharing and onward referral to available healthcare services addressing mental health and addictions can reduce the risk of reoffending, suicide and self-harm amongst such vulnerable people.”

Minister Long added:

“For those on the cusp of offending and those who have offended, stable and supported accommodation can be a stabilising factor in moving away from offending. Having recently visited Belfast Homeless Service I learned first-hand how this is particularly the case for those people returning to the community after serving a prison sentence.”


Notes to editors: 

  1. Those experiencing chronic homelessness can have diverse needs, mental and physical health issues, addictions, legal and justice issues.  A housing solution alone may not address their homelessness situation.  The individuals often require very pronounced, integrated and specialist support needs to exit from homelessness.
  2. Housing First is an internationally recognised model of combatting long-term homelessness for people with complex needs first developed in New York, USA and has been piloted here and has shown positive results.  A Housing First service prioritises permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness from the outset. The intention is that housing should be available even if a person experiencing homelessness refuses treatment for their substance use or mental health issues and then a flexible support package covering mental health, substance use, employment and other issues is provided for the service users in their new home by a multi-disciplinary team.
  3. In the Homelessness Strategy 2022-27, a key action in supporting those people living with addiction issues is the delivery of the Complex Lives model. The Complex Lives model is led by a Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) with membership from the Housing Executive, Belfast City Council, Probation Board Northern Ireland, Police Service, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Extern, Welcome Organisation, Simon Community and DePaul.
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  6. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.


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