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Addressing homelessness: three approaches from three different contexts

In our recent Community of Practice (CoP) webinar, held on 9th September 2021, we discussed different approaches to addressing homelessness. We heard from Alex Smith from Homeless Link (United Kingdom), Siraz Hirani from Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) (India), and Thobe Gwala from I Care (South Africa). Below we present some of their programmes’ main elements, the similarities between them and some points for debate.

Housing First, Homeless Link

Housing First in the UK builds upon a model first developed in the United States by academic and campaigner Sam Tsemberis. The model combines the provision of housing and support to those who experience homelessness and unmet chronic health or social care needs. Clients of Housing First don’t need to prove they are “housing-ready”. Secure housing is provided unconditionally from the outset, offering a strong foundation for intensive support, guided by the person’s needs.

While the model can be applied to different contexts, it is based on a set of principles (see Housing First principles for England), with fidelity to the model guiding implementation. Housing First is most effective for homeless individuals where other more traditional interventions have failed. The cost, long term commitment and requirement for suitable social housing limit the scale of the model. While it has been deployed in the global South, for example in Chile, there are no examples in low and lower-middle income countries.

If you are interested in knowing more about Housing First England, you can read the presentation from Homeless Link here.

Improving Shelter Security in India: A Women Led Initiative for Change, Mahila Housing Sewa Trust (MHT)

MHT aims to address a continuum of shelter insecurity (see image below) that includes people experiencing homelessness, people living in impoverished slums, people living in improved slums, and people lacking legal property rights. You can learn more about the continuum in our CoP forum thread here.

People experiencing homelessness, such as the destitute, seasonal migrants, pavement dwellers, and construction workers, many of whom have been living on streets for over 30-40 years, are those with the greatest need.

In Ahmedabad, MHT is piloting a project in partnership with local communities and the local government. With their network of grassroots leaders, MHT supports people experiencing homelessness to secure identity documents and access to social services, which will help them towards accessing stable and secure housing.

Catch Him Before He Falls, I Care

I Care works with young men and boys who are experiencing homelessness in South Africa. The aim is to offer temporary support to “break the vicious cycle” of homelessness and exclusion. I Care’s support includes the provision of medical assistance, nutritious meals, clothing, blankets, laundry facilities and showers.

Dealing with substance-abuse is one of the main concerns of the programme, and there is a three-month rehabilitation component which aims to support the reunification of children with their families. I Care continues their support after rehabilitation, to address issues of poverty and family distress that result in children returning to the streets.

Similarities and Differences

In the table below we reflect upon some of the differences and similarities between the three models:

Housing First

Catch Him Before He Falls

Improving Shelter Security


Mainly Global North

South Africa



Housing & Support








Complex unmet needs

Young men and boys

Adults and families experiencing homelessness


Provision of housing and intensive support

Substance-abuse rehabilitation and family reunification

Incremental progress towards secure shelter

Deals with supply side?





Cost, including long-term funding. Not easily applicable in contexts outside the Global North.

Family reunification not always a solution. Focus on substance abuse could increase stigmatisation.

Long process to securing housing.

Based on this analysis, we have a couple of questions for you: do you think Housing First could work in low-income countries? How can the Global North learn from I Care and MHT initiatives? How can the Global South learn from Housing First? Share your thoughts commenting on this blog post!

We will be sending you updates about our next webinar soon… stay tuned!

The CoP Team

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