In Helsinki, Finland, the number of long-term homeless people has fallen by more than 35% since 2008, according to the Guardian.
Finland previously used the staircase model where moving through different stages to get your life back on track was rewarded with housing. Juha Kaakinen, who runs the Y-Foundation in developing supported and affordable housing said that “we decided to make the housing unconditional”.
“You don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”
The Housing First principle planned to build more housing, not emergency shelters. It was developed slightly over a decade ago and challenged the typical solutions to homelessness used by a variety of other countries. Housing First initially set a goal to create 2,500 new homes for long-term homeless people and has exceeded that goal by 1,000. For Finland’s formerly homeless, Housing First is a proven success.
Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, explained the intricacies of dealing with homelessness, “many long-term homeless people have addictions, mental health issues, medical conditions that need ongoing care. The support has to be there.”
For Housing First to be effective, a large proportion of the housing units must be government owned and operated. The Guardian reports that “one in seven residents live in city-owned housing” and Helsinki additionally “owns 70% of the land within the city limits”.
In Finland, the state is heavily invested not only in solving the homelessness problem, but in homelessness prevention as well.