Climbing rental prices, fewer jobs, and increased levels of substance abuse have led to an explosion in the number of homeless people worldwide since the 2008 recession. Yet one nation in northern Europe has been able to buck this trend and is now the only country in the European Union where homelessness is decreasing rather than increasing.
Success of the Housing First programme
Finland has been actively fighting to bring people off the streets since the 1980s, when many people in the country were left homeless after the previous recession. Around ten years ago, around the time of another global recession, Finland’s housing minister Jan Vapaavuori (who is now the Mayor of Helsinki) introduced the ‘Housing First’ programme to reduce the homelessness level even more.
The idea of the programme is to make long-term housing the first priority in homeless cases and deal with other issues such as substance abuse or mental health problems, which are leading causes of homelessness, afterwards. Housing is considered an important human right in Finland and it has been found to be a better option than putting homeless people through multiple levels of short-term housing.
While a home doesn’t automatically cure the underlying causes of homelessness, a safe and stable environment greatly reduces stress and is the first step to begin dealing with them and ending the cycle of chronic homelessness.
The scheme required a large investment of 280 million euros to buy housing from the private market and build new apartments. It appears to have paid off since in the past ten years, 3,500 people have been taken off the streets in Finland and 80 percent of them have been able to hold onto their long-term housing. The number of homeless people in Finland has dropped from 18,000 in the 1980s to just over 7,000 today.
What we can learn from the scheme
The success of the Housing First programme has inspired many other nations with homelessness problems to look to Finland as an example for how to solve it. Finnish housing ministers have visited many other countries throughout Europe to talk to them about how Finland has reduced its homeless rates and how they can do the same.
The major road block preventing other nations from adapting their own version of the Housing First scheme is said to be lack of budget to acquire new housing. Yet Finland has still been able to reduce homelessness despite high rents and a competitive job market. Even after World War Two when Finland was deeply in debt, they were able to rehouse hundreds of thousands of refugees. It is hoped that as Europe slowly recovers from the recession, more countries could copy Finland’s housing scheme in the future.
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