Finland just might have the answer to our a growing homeless crisis
A decade ago, Finland decided to tackle homelessness with a model called 'housing first'. it's been a remarkable success. Photo: Getty Isabelle Lane Journalist
Australiaâs homelessness and affordable housing crisis is worsening. But there may be a solution from a rather unlikely place.
Finland has the distinction of being the only European country where homelessness has decreased in recent years, and the rest of the world is starting to take notice.
Between 2008 and 2016, long-term homelessness in Finland was slashed by a staggering 35 per cent.
By contrast, homelessness in Australia rose 13.7 per cent over the five years to 2016, according to census data.
A decade ago, Finland decided to tackle chronic homelessness by providing permanent housing â" individual apartments rather than temporary shelter accommodation â" to rough sleepers and others in the grip of long-term homelessness. Itâs success has been remarkable.
The model is known as Housing First.
One of Finlandâs biggest advocates of Housing First is Juha Kaakinen, CEO of Y-Foundation, a social housing organisation which has provided more than 6000 homes to former rough sleepers, and 10,000 homes to low-income families and individuals.
âHousing is the foundation for solving other issues. That was the change in thinking,â Mr Kaakinen said.
âYou donâ t need to be âhousing readyâ, itâs not a reward after youâve solved your issues. Itâs the basis for solving them.â
The program has been both a social and economic success.
Providing a homeless person with permanent housing in a supported housing unit saves the government approximately â¬15,000 ($23,400) per person per year, according to an evaluation of the program by the Technical University of Tampere, with savings mainly coming from reduced use of health services and institutional care.
Could Housing First work in Australia?
In Australia, funding for social housing has failed to keep pace with the countryâs growing population.
Just 3.3 per cent of the population was accommodated in social housing in 2016, compared with 5 per cent in 2001.
By contrast, social housing in Finland comprises 13 per cent of the total housing stock, and 20 per cent in areas with new housing.
According to Mr Kaakinen, this is the minimum level o f government investment required to adequately address homelessness.
In Australia, national housing campaign Everybodyâs Home is calling for the government to âfix Australiaâs housing systems so it works for everyoneâ.
One in three Australians knows someone whoâs homeless, and 42 per cent of Australians worry they could become homeless if their circumstances change, according to research conducted for the campaign.
Everybodyâs Home spokesperson Kate Colvin said the figures show that homelessness is a growing concern for ordinary Australians.
âItâs now no longer a niche issue, itâs an issue that an overwhelming number of voters expect their politicians to act on,â Ms Colvin said.
â79 per cent of people believe that in a wealthy country like Australia, governments have a responsibility to make sure everybody has a roof over their head.â
According to the research, three in four voters across the political spectrum believe more social housing is critical to solving homeless.
Council to Homeless Persons CEO Jenny Smith said that Australiaâs low level of social housing put it at odds with âany other civilised, humane societyâ, and that we also lack protections for renters.
Australians also have fundamental misperceptions about homelessness, believing it to be the result of poor life decisions, rather than systemic issues such as a lack of affordable housing, Ms Smith said.
âIn fact, our housing market is structured so that people on lowest incomes such as those on Centrelink canât possibly afford to put a roof over their heads,â she said.
âIf we keep saying the people who have become homeless have brought it on themselves we will never identify the problem that needs to be solved.âSource: Google News Finland | Netizen 24 Finland