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Finland is housing the homeless

COMMUNITY

Finland has a unique and commendable claim to fame: it is the only country in the European Union where homelessness is falling. It has achieved this by closing homeless shelters and, instead, providing permanent homes for those in need — no strings attached. “It was clear to everyone that the old system wasn’t working,” said Juha Kaakinen of Y-Foundation, an organisation that provides affordable housing. “We needed radical change.”

That change came when Finland adopted a new policy to tackle homelessness: Housing First. The approach was introduced in 2007 by a working group comprised of ‘Four Wise Experts’. They concluded that providing permanent housing based on a normal lease was the best way forward. Individually-tailored support services, increasing the supply of affordable rental housing and preventive measures were also part of the approach. Homeless shelters have since been converted into supported housing units. “The principle is that everyone can live independently with the right support,” Kaakinen told Equal Times. “It is to give people a permanent home and get rid of the temporary accommodation model. Temporary accommodation does not offer much in terms of building a stable life.”


Since the policy was launched, 7,000 affordable homes have been built across the country, resulting in Finland’s homelessness rate falling by 40 percent — in a population of 5.5 million people, there are around 5,500 people homeless. Speaking to The Guardian, Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, said he’s proud of the results: “We have reduced long-term homelessness by a remarkable amount. We must do more — better support, better prevention, better dialogue with residents. But yes, we can be very proud.”


| Learn more about Housing First


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