Homelessness figures in Europe paint an alarming picture, having increased steadily since the 2008 financial crisis. Finland, however, is the only country in Europe where the number of homeless people is in fact decreasing. What’s the secret behind their success?
The factor that sets Finland apart from its European neighbours is the model it applies when re-housing those who find themselves living on the streets. ‘Housing First’ is a system which uses housing as a starting point rather than an end goal, which contrasts greatly with the traditional ‘Staircase Model’, which requires homeless people to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and get their lives back on track, before they are eligible for housing. Housing First is structured to encourage a permanent exit from homelessness and, so far, the objective is being achieved, with research showing that it generally ends homelessness for at least 8/10 people.
Providing a house immediately for homeless people becomes a great incentive for social integration, allows a safe environment that increases the effectiveness of treatment and, most importantly, returns autonomy to the individual.
That said, it’s not all roses in the state of Finland. Although there are almost no rough sleepers on the city streets, it has not entirely eradicated homelessness, with roughly 6,000 Finns without a roof over their head. Critics argue that a Housing First approach is expensive and takes a long time to bear fruit (Finland began its approach in the 1980s), and in the short-term can divert resources from other programmes. Some also caution that Housing First should not be seen as a silver bullet, and can only work as one part of the solution.
Should we give every homeless person a home? Can we learn from our Scandinavian neighbours and decrease homelessness across Europe by employing the Housing First model? Could we someday be able to eradicate homelessness altogether? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!