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0321-ddp-finland-homeless

Photo: Gordon F. Sander
Residents at a Housing First facility near Helsinki, Finland. Emmi Vuorela, right, is the resident coordinator. 

“Housing First” is a model that parts of the United States have adopted on a limited scale. It provides housing to homeless people without making behavior changes a prerequisite. The theory is that a person is more likely to get off an alcohol dependency, say, if he has the stability of shelter.

Now Finland has not only seen the wisdom of the concept, it has decided to go much bigger and provide every homeless person with housing. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when a society as a whole makes up its mind to do something sensible. Sensible because the program not only helps individuals but pays for itself.

Gordon F. Sander writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “As anyone who has visited Europe recently can attest, the scourge of homelessness has reached epidemic proportions.

“The only exception to the trend is Finland, according to FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless. There, homelessness is, remarkably, on the decline.

“Per the latest statistics, the number of homeless people in Finland has declined from a high of 18,000 30 years ago, to approximately 7,000: the latter figure includes some 5,000 persons who are temporarily lodging with friends or relatives. In short, the problem has basically been solved. ..

“Finland opted to give housing to the homeless from the start, nationwide, so as to allow them a stable environment to stabilize their lives.

“ ‘Basically, we decided that we wanted to end homelessness, rather than manage it,’ says Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation, which helps provide 16,500 low-cost apartments for the homeless. …

The elimination of homelessness first appeared in the Helsinki government’s program in 1987. Since then virtually every government has devoted significant resources toward this end.

“Around 10 years ago, however, observers noticed that although homelessness in general was declining, long-term homelessness was not. A new approach to the problem was called for, along with a new philosophy. …

“The concept behind the new approach was not original; it was already in selective use in the US as part of the Pathways Model pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in the 1990s to help former psychiatric patients. What was different, and historic, about the Finnish Housing First model was a willingness to enact the model on a nationwide basis.

“ ‘We understood, firstly, that if we wanted to eradicate homelessness we had to work in a completely different way,’ says Mr. Kaakinen, who acted as secretary for the Finnish experts. … ‘We decided as a nation to do something about this.’…

“One of [the] goals was to cut the number of long-term homeless in half by producing 1,250 new homes, including supported housing units for tenants with their own leases, and around-the-clock presence of trained caring staff for residents who needed help. …

“As far as the not inconsiderable cost of producing the 3,500 units created between 2008 and 2015 – estimated at just under $382 million – [Sanna Vesikansa, the deputy mayor of Helsinki] declares that ‘the program pays for itself.’ As evidence, she points to a case study undertaken by the Tampere University of Technology in 2011. It showed society saved $18,500 per homeless person per year who had received a rental apartment with support, due to the medical and emergency services no longer needed to assist and respond. …

” ‘That doesn’t cover the contribution to the economy [from] residents who moved on from supported housing and got jobs,’ she adds.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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