Finland’s Progressive Approach to Reducing Homelessness Is Paying Off

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While homelessness rates throughout Europe have climbed, Finland’s progressive approach to housing has prompted rates to drop. It’s the only country in the EU where homelessness has fallen, and other countries are taking note. 

Finland’s approach employs the principles of housing first programs first developed in the US: immediate and unconditional access to housing, individualized social services and community support that fosters self-determination to help people experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.

The country has spent €250M of state, local and nonprofit funds on hiring support staff and building new homes, buying apartments and converting old shelters. But a recent study showed that savings on emergency health care, the justice system and social services were as much as €15,000 a year for every homeless person in support housing.

“Investment in ending homelessness always pays back, to say nothing of the human and ethical reasons,” Y-Foundation chief executive Juha Kaakinen wrote in The Guardian.

Finland has used a multipronged approach to housing for the last decade, which prioritizes homelessness prevention. Results signal its efficacy. Helsinki, like other European cities, has a scarcity of affordable housing and rising home prices. Finland saw a 12% jump in housing costs from 2010 to 2016, comprising 35-40% of household income.

After implementing programs to help residents avoid losing their homes in 2008, the capital city of Helsinki cut its eviction rates in half.

Helsinki owns 60,000 social housing units and 70% of the land within city limits, and regulates a strict ratio of social housing, private sector housing and purchased housing with no visible external differences to prevent social stigmatization.

“To say that the scarcity of funding in any western European country is the reason for lack of affordable social housing is either an understatement or a conscious misunderstanding,” Kaakinen wrote. “It is simply a question of political will.”