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Finland Solves Homelessness

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Finland Solves Homelessness

Finland Solves Homelessness
January 28
22:22 2020

Countries around the world are seeing rising numbers of homeless people. Parts of California resemble third-world countries with littered streets, makeshift camps, and beggars on the streets and highway ramps.

One country that many Americans overlook completely has figured out how to help people with no place to live – by giving them a place to live with no strings attached.

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Statistics from Finland’s Housing Finance and Development Center indicate that, in 1987, the nation hosted more than 18,000 homeless residents. In just under 30 years, that number fell dramatically. In 2016, 7,000 people were classified as homeless, most of whom were living temporarily with relatives or friends.

Finland set up a “housing first” program that gets rough sleepers off the streets while they deal with the challenges that put them there – issues including unemployment and substance addiction.

NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Finland provide housing for anyone in need. Such groups pay the construction costs, purchase apartments on the private housing market, and renovate existing units. Apartments have either one or two bedrooms.

The CEO of the NGO Y-Foundation, explained the difference between the Finns’ official initiative and that practiced in most other places:

“When you have shelters you can have shelter from the storm but you need a home to lead a decent life. You need to have housing, it’s your basic human right and then you can start solving the issues with the help of professionals if needed.”

Rather than build more homeless shelters, the Finnish leaders have opted to build more houses. Emergency shelters have been repurposed into apartments as a long-term housing option. Occupants sign a tenancy agreement that obligates them to pay rent and operating expenses.

Social workers have offices in the residential buildings to assist with financial matters, including applications for social benefits.

In 2008, the capital city of Helsinki counted 558 hostels and shelters. Tent villages and huts sprang up, offering little relief from cold weather and a chance to reintegrate with society.

In 2016, there were only 52 temporary housing facilities open for business. Over the same eight years, the number of supported housing units and independent rental apartments in Helsinki rose from 2,585 to 3,742.

The director of the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), Freek Spinnewijn, outlined the economic realities of homelessness:

“Shelter has become quite expensive. People tend to think that shelter is understaffed and therefore cheap. But if you’re in a shelter you are more likely to be in contact with prison services, police, and justice.”

Many people who lost their jobs ended up being evicted, too. Getting a job is difficult when the applicant has no home address. Both short- and long-term temporary shelters fail to solve this problem. Thus, the vicious cycle of poverty continues.

Spinnewijn added that shelters lead to increased costs associated with homelessness:

“If they are in a shelter, they will accumulate health problems and then wait until it’s unbearable and end up in emergency hospitals or emergency psychiatric care, which is very expensive. These services might not want to discharge people because they know they’re discharging them onto the streets. So they prolong, artificially, their stay in very expensive services.

“So, if you take all the costs together — certainly in countries with high-quality shelter systems — providing housing with support through the housing first approach is the same cost, if not cheaper.”

The Finnish homelessness expert said that performing a cost-benefit analysis on temporary shelters versus permanent housing is a difficult task but the numbers prove that investing in the problem is an effective way to solve it.

Spinnewijn estimated that the cost savings per homeless person who receives proper housing with support services amount to €15,000 (almost $17,000) a year. The Finn wondered by other locales have yet to figure this out:

“Everybody who does a little bit of research knows that it can be done. It’s not a money issue because it saves money for society. It’s not too expensive. So it’s hard for me to understand.”

Kaakinen attributed the success of his country’s homelessness solution to the nation’s small size, ability to set and achieve common socio-economic goals, and desire for connection with all citizens:

“There has been wide political consensus. We don’t want to leave any out of the society. Finland is a small country so we need everybody to be involved in society…In Finland, it’s been a national effort: state ministries, big cities, and NGOs have all worked together to reduce homelessness. This is something that seems to be missing in many other countries.”

The results of Finland’s Housing First program speak for themselves: in the past 10 years, 4,600 homes have given the nation’s homeless a chance at a fresh start. The good news is that nothing is stopping other locales from following this innovative lead.

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