Linear Housing Models

In the UK, the transition from street homelessness to independent living for those with complex needs often resembles a ‘staircase’ model, with individuals being required to meet specific criteria before they can progress ‘step-by-step’ towards practical homelessness assistance - and ultimately, an independent tenancy. In practice, this process can involve:

  • Initial contact with outreach workers, day centres or treatment services;
  • A move into direct-access hostels;
  • A further move into second stage or specialist hostels (relating to support needs);
  • Progression to semi-independent or shared accommodation;
  • Ultimately - once deemed ‘housing ready’ - taking an independent tenancy, with or without supportxxiii.

This traditional ‘continuum of care’ approach is a method we now know to be largely ineffective at resolving the issue of chronic homelessness. The Homelessness Act of 2002 ensures that services offered cannot be described as inclusive to allxxiv; yet, for those individuals who can meet specified criteria to access intervention such as hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation, the ‘linear’ style reveals itself as a method which inadequately meets the needs of its participants, largely due to the requirement of an
applicant to meet a sequence of almost unattainable goals.

How feasible is it for a person to achieve sobriety or overcome serious mental health challenges whilst they are sleeping on the streets, begging for food and trying not to freeze to death in sub-zero temperatures? Is a short, uncertain period spent within a chaotic temporary unit an appropriate environment for recovery from issues relating to historical trauma, domestic violence or substance misuse? How easy is it to rebuild your life if you don’t have a registered address, a regular income, or even know when you will next sleep deeply for an uninterrupted period?

A number of academics have recently argued that the evidence base regarding the efficacy of transitional supported housing for homeless people with complex support needs and other vulnerable groups is actually very weakxxv. In this vein, continuum of care, linear and staircase models have been subjected to criticism in recent times, some of which has been severe. Much of this critique has centred on high attrition rates: that is, the loss of service users between the transitional stagesxxvi.

The distress which one can attribute to the lack of safety, security and certainty of having a settled home can cause or intensify social isolation, create barriers to education and employment and dramatically impact on both mental and physical health. When homelessness becomes prolonged, or is repeatedly experienced, there are often very marked deteriorations in health and wellbeing.

Furthermore, whist the ‘linear’ address evidently fails to present the people it aims to serve with a solid springboard for rebuilding their often damaged and dysfunctional lives, it is also deemed costly to keep any homeless household trapped within a repeated cycle of temporary accommodation placements.


xxiii. (Web version unavailable) New link found:
xxiv. xxiv.
xxv. (e.g. Sahlin, 2005; Hansen Lofstrand, 2010)
xxvi. (Gulcur et al., 2003; Pleace, 2008, Caton et al., 2007; Chilvers et al., 2009)

Copyright © by Amy.F.Varle, January 2018.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.

The views and opinions expressed in this report and its content are those of the author and not of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which has no responsibility or liability for any part of the report.



When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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