Finland's approach to homelessness inspires local response
Geoff Sharp has a vision that every person in the Central Highlands region will have a place to call home.
It is a vision he is working toward in his role as social and community leader for the Central Highlands Regional Partnership.
Housing - generic.
And it seems this work to reduce homelessness could be inspired by models adopted in Finland.
Representatives from the Central Highlands, Barwon and Goulbourn Regional Partnerships met with Finnish homelessness policy advisor Juha Kaakinen in Melbourne on Tuesday last week.
Finland is often looked to as a guiding example as the only European country where homelessness has decreased.
The country adopted a âhousing firstâ approach, which resulted in a decrease in the number of people experiencing long-term homelessness by 35 per cent.
The âhousing firstâ model presc ribes safe and permanent housing as the first priority for people experiencing homelessness.
Then a team of support workers can address complex needs through services like drug and alcohol counselling or mental health treatment once housing is secured.
READ MORE Housing first approach to homelessness a key priority for region
Mr Sharp said he was both âchallengedâ and âinspiredâ by the discussion with Mr Kaakinen.
âOne of the main things I took out of it is the need to integrate all welfare services into any future planning and thinking around homelessness,â he said.
âWe need to bring all the services to work together with any solution.â
Mr Kaakinen explained to leaders that investment in affordable housing was key to the success replacing all shelters and hostels with permanent housing in Finland.
We have a lot to learn from the Finland model.Geoff Sharp, Central Highlands Partner ship social and community leader
More than 3500 new apartments have been built or purchased for the homeless in Finland.
Social housing makes up 13 per cent of the total housing stock and 20 per cent in new housing areas.
The development of a âhousing firstâ model in Australia has been constrained by the lack of appropriate affordable housing stock necessary to quickly house those experiencing homelessness.
âWe have a lot to learn from the Finland model,â Mr Sharp said.
âBut we have to remember Finland is a very different social context. The way they do it should not necessarily get lifted and dropped here, but the key principles around the provision of social housing and addressing other social issues do apply.
âOften people think we have to deal with the alcohol or drug problems or mental health issues firstâ¦ whereas they (Finnish experts) say start with the ho use and work from thereâ¦ Imagine the difficulty of dealing with Centrelink or any other agencies when you donât have an address.â
Meanwhile, members of the Central Highlands Regional Partnership are continuing to complete a state government funded study into homelessness in the Central Highlands.
Central Highlands Regional Partnership chair George Fong, deputy chair Jennifer Ganske, and social and community representative Geoff Sharp in 2017. Picture: Dylan Burns
Staff are in the process of compiling data from agencies and conversations with people who have experienced homeless.
âThere is lots of talk about homelessness in the region but no one seems to be able to pin it down and describe it,â Mr Sharp said.
âWe want to ask who is homeless, how old are they, where are they, what is it like in Hepburn versus Golden Plains Shireâ¦ and capture the voice of those who are living and experiencing it.â
The study i s expected to be released in September.
A group of community stakeholders will then meet to workshop a response specific for the Central Highlands region and examine the appropriateness of a âhousing firstâ approach.
Regional assemblies began across the state in 2016 to identify key priorities for nine regional communities.
- On track to deliver on what matters most to the Central Highlands
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