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!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Srdjanns74

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    freek spinnewijn

    The answer to the question whether we should provide homes for all homeless people is very simply yes. The only other alternative would be to manage homelessness in the shelter system for ever. That would be a real waste of resources. Home and homelessness go together as cure and illness…

    Nobody argues that Housing First is the unique and only solution to homelessness. Finland is often cited as an example to follow but also the Finns have policies in place which go beyond Housing First strictu sensu such as targeted prevention mechanisms and rapid rehousing policies.

    It is important to be careful with numbers. Yes there are between 6 and 7 thousand homeless people in Finland, but the Finns use a very wide definition of homelessness. Almost the entire homeless populations are people forced to stay with family and friends (sofa surfers) which are not even considered to be homeless in most other EU member states; If you restrict homelessness to people on the street and in shelter/temporary accommodation (such as B&B) the number in Finland is extremely low and approaches functional zero.

    It is silly to simply state that Housing First might be expensive. Compared to what? Indeed, terrible quality shelter accommodation with no privacy and limited staff support might be cheaper. Even if some of the “savings” of such inhumane policy will reappear as costs in other areas such as health care and justice/police. The truth is that we have very limited data about the longer-term costs of Housing First as compared to TAU (Treatment as Usual) but there are strong indications that it is not more expensive for homeless people with complex needs. That is all we need to know, no?!

    Yes, solving homelessness takes time and it cannot be done during one political mandate. Over-promising is an important reason why so many policy initiatives fail. I prefer the Finnish approach over the accumulation of policy failures which is likely to lead to apathy of policy makers. 15 years to get tho functional zero seems a more than reasonable time frame. But it takes political courage to go beyond 1 political mandate. It required a political consensus about the key ingredients of effective homelessness policies. Finland is one of the rare countries where a solid consensus exist covering most of the political spectrum from left to right.

    The EU should focus on Housing First because there is a lot of demand of information and expertise from the Member States. Housing First is relatively new and an approach which is still in development. Why not pool experiments, test, and research at EU level rather than carrying them out in 27 countries. The added value of EU cooperation is obvious. Seldom there is such explicit demand from Member States for support. But the EU can do much more than further promote Housing First. It can for instance encourage Member States to develop national homelessness strategies (in which Housing First should take a central place). Progress towards such strategies could than be monitored in the frame of the Semester process.

    In short — EU should work on homelessness as an urgent social problem that is rapidly increasing (unlike many other forms of poverty). Housing First is an interesting focus because of the explicit demand for support, but should not be the only one. The Finnish success is an inspiration and can be used to create a true European policy dynamic on homelessness. Such dynamic will quickly show that interesting things are happening in other countries as well.

    Voila – some quick reflections. Thanks for provoking debate on homelessness in DebatingEurope.

  2. avatar

    We should build, not give. That’s not food to give

  3. avatar

    We should help her/him to get a house…

  4. avatar

    Shelter and fair chances to get himself a home

  5. avatar

    Comunism took houses from rich and give them to poor people. Those houses they look now worst then the warzone.Give them a job and cut the social benefits.

  6. avatar

    A home…no… shelter yes….but that’s only part of any solution…..the majority of rough sleepers have a multitude of issues…mental health…ptsd..drug/alcohol abuse…these also need effective treatment centres.

  7. avatar

    In Europe everybody should have access to a safe place with hyginene and heating in the winter, plus basic foods. Depending on the person’s state of mind and behaviour this could be either a small home, a room in a public building for the homeless, a bed in a shelter, or a mattress in a hangar with floor heating..

  8. avatar

    tough topic because it opens some precedents and what i’ll call injustice. On one side we have homeless people that cannot afford a house (either by their fault or not). On the other side we have young adults who also cannot find affordable houses to start a life – even if they get a job. So, the problem isn’t solved by giving some people free housing and others not. The problem can be solved allowing for affordable houses and rents; allowing for employers to create more and competitive jobs by making it easier for the market to flourish instead of increasing taxes. Firms create jobs and jobs give people a chance to grow and do something for themselves. The problem with giving away houses, and other “free” stuff (and i’m talking without a proper filter based on necessity), will make people think – “why should i work hard and get a job if the government will give me free stuff”. On the other hand we have the working class – specially middle class – paying high taxes to keep this up.

  9. avatar

    Off course. If not for them, for ourselves.

  10. avatar

    A home should be a human right. …a basic Human right.

  11. avatar

    I may sound heartless but no

    • avatar

      You are the only one who is not a communist here… Why not give everyone everything for free….? Very honestly, this is teh ideology of the good old communist regimes. It worked “wonderfully”. WHere is the individual responsibility, where are the families of these hpmeless people? Extreme liberalism killed the basic values (family, value of work, performance) and made drug, alcohol, single household, the norm. And than we now want the taxpayer normal society to pay for those who are incapable of taking care of themselves or just want a free ride? Only the old and the sick deserve this. But most homeless are in their youth or prime years, or lived their life like crap… Sorry – I do not feel sorry for them.

  12. avatar

    It would sure make the “refugees” (migrants) less controversial

  13. avatar

    Every case is special. Some people deserve more than a house. Other not even a glass of water.

    • avatar

      Marius, and who can be the moral judge of people? Because there are lots of corrupt people that shouldn’t deserve what they have, but that doesn’t stop them. 🤷🏻‍♂️

  14. avatar

    Shelter, yes. No one can help someone, who does not help himsilf, by any means.

  15. avatar

    Yes, but in order to help people and have those people help themselves, they need to be reached. Hardly anyone ever was re-integrated off the street while many thousands were successfully reintegrated from the shelters. People shouldn’t be left on the streets.

  16. avatar

    We must support them in difficulty. In my place crisis destroy plenty of productive people, professionals, small entrepreneurs who have support the system for decades. Who offer a job to a 55 year old employee? Life is tricky and we have to give a hand or more. A social safety net for all is key.

  17. avatar

    Be gentle… Everyone fights a war we know nothing about… Build a bigger table, not a higher fence…
    If you give, why do you still want to control what happens with what is given? Just give! No questions. What if tomorrow you are hit by tragedies? And have to face the same ruthlessness you show today?
    Can we give? Let’s give.
    Is that comunism? No. For sure not. It has absolutely nothing to do with politics. Just give.
    “thank you” is a huge problem. We expect to have our hand kissed fir having given. Or done. Why? Why do you want someone else to reward your choice? Do not mistake for common sense or education…it’s as perverse as the “greater good” concept…

  18. avatar

    Help yourself and God (or society) Will help you.

  19. avatar

    A free and clean bed will be fair. and a free bath and a change of clean clothes :)

    • avatar

      Manuel, and then… straight to the curb. What a world. Houses sit empty, unsold, and there are homeless people! There’s an imbalance in how money is gathered and spent by States, and the poor have been getting the short end of the stick for too long. We need to redistribute wealth.

    • avatar

      Davide, It was tried before, the misery was greater. Plus, it was accompanied with severe oppression and genocides.

    • avatar

      Davide, Homeless people are not poor, because they do not have a fixed place of residence with a minimum of conditions to live healthily.
      These minimum conditions for a healthy home change from country to country.
      Newly arrived refugees are homeless by definition.
      If these refugees are sent to live in a tent they are still homeless. If a country has a significant proportion of its population homeless, then the state does not have enough wealth to build houses.

  20. avatar

    Yes we must support people in bad position.

  21. avatar

    Homelessness is pure cruelty. Every humans’ basic needs should be met. A system based on profits has been designed where the 97% can go suffer for the other 3%’s profits and riches. It is time to update the system. If money is created out of debt, just create money as a debt to cover humanities basic needs, and then press the delete button.

  22. avatar
    Janet Ash

    If you have a spare bedroom and live on your own it could work out well for both parties .

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