Finland stands out among other countries in Europe because it has been able to significantly reduce homelessness across the nation. Since the 1980s, homelessness has fallen from over 20,000 to around 4000 in 2021. In 2019, across the country there were less than 1000 people who were long-term homeless, less than the capacity of emergency shelters so no one had to sleep on the street.
Homelessness in Finland 1989–2020 based on Ara data
What is Finland's secret?
Finland over the last decade have prioritised spending on homelessness prevention and adopted a new strategy based on the Housing First model. Their way of approaching the issue has been to prioritise housing first; they converted temporary accommodation into flats as well as building up a stock of flats from the private market and social housing. Housing First reverses some of the standard models of homelessness aid, where people are only offered housing once they are looking for a job and are free from mental health issues or substance abuse. Instead the Housing First model means that housing is available to all.
The ethos of Housing First is that everyone is entitled to a house as a basic human right, and that it shouldn't be a requirement that people have to demonstrate social acceptability before having a home. The residents of accommodation are given financial support but are in charge of paying their own rent to give them their own independence; they choose what sort of living situation would suit them best. The policy also incorporates long term social care to help individuals, such as substance abuse and mental health support, and these can often be given to individuals over many years. Crucially, the housing and support can be separated, an individual could move to other accommodation and still receive support, or continue to live in the accommodation without support if they no longer need it.
How has Housing First impacted homelessness?
As we have seen the data shows that Housing First has worked effectively to reduce homelessness. However, it has also been able to help save money over the long run, one housing unit in Tampere was able to save €250,000 by using a Housing First model. Treating people with respect and stopping them becoming homeless also reduces the costs needed to support them after the trauma of rough sleeping. The Y-Foundation in Finland estimates that it saves €15,000 of societies funds each year for every long-term homeless person that is housed.
Housing First has enabled Finland both to solve its homelessness crisis, save money and give the homeless dignity.
Image by Tapio Haaja via Unsplash
How is Finland able to do Housing First?
Key things in Finland's social structure allows Housing First to work well:
Their social security and health services- The support for Housing First residents is drawn from services that already exist in society which are extensive and high quality.
They support all, not just Finland residents- In Finland, they have a generous system and those without a residence permit are entitled to emergency accommodation and food assistance if they need it. This is unlike the UK where many individuals who are homeless have no resource to public funds so are unable to get state support.
Large stock of social housing- The government in Finland in 2008-2011 focused on building a large stock of new affordable housing to help tackle homelessness. This has meant that housing is much more affordable making Housing First interventions much more viable.
What does this mean for us?
In Finland the Housing First model works effectively, because it is able to utilise the existing social security and charity support. Sadly, in the UK it would be much more difficult to implement a housing first policy because of limited funds to combat homelessness and a lack of affordable housing. The UK does not have the social structures that Finland has that help Housing First work effectively.
One way you can help is by writing to your MP and asking that radical budget steps are taken so that the UK can become in line with Finland. The government produces a guide which gives you all the information you need on who your MP is and how you can write to them.
Housing First works by supporting the holistic needs of individuals, and part of that is ensuring that people have dignity in what clothes they wear. Here at Clothing Collective, we work by distributing vouchers to those who are homeless which can be redeemed in charity shops. This means that people can choose the style and fit that suits them and gives them control in their lives. You can support us either by donating here or by sharing our blogs and following us on social media.
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