Finnish model to tackle homelessness in the spotlight in London

Finnish model to tackle homelessness in the spotlight in London

Finland is the only EU member state with diminishing numbers of homelessness, thanks to the Housing First model

The Finnish model posits that housing is a right which enables people to live better, not a prize they are entitled to after proving themselves worthy.

The Finnish Institute and the Finnish Embassy in London organised a seminar entitled Housing First: Ending homelessness across Finland and the UK with Crisis UK on the 6th of March to introduce the successes of the Housing First model in Finland and Britain. The event took place at the Finnish ambassador Päivi Luostarinen’s residence. The guests included around 60 experts, journalists and politicians, among them the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire.

In 2018, the estimated number of people sleeping rough in England on a single night was 4700. In 2017, nearly 600 homeless people died on the streets of England and Wales or in temporary accommodation. The Housing First model has been piloted locally in Britain, but it has yet to secure sufficient political support to become fully sustainable. At the moment, around 350 people are receiving Housing First -style services, while Crisis UK estimates that the number of people in need of them is closer to 18 500.

At the event Juha Kaakinen, the chief executive of Y foundation and one of the key-figures of Finnish model presented the Finnish approach. He emphasised that ending homelessness requires focusing on permanent solutions. Temporary accommodation, such as shelters and hostels, are often an obstacle rather than a solution. Converting these to actual homes played a key role in Finland, in addition to the wide partnership between actors of different levels. The availability of social housing is the most effective way to prevent homelessness, said Kaakinen.  

“You cannot have Housing First unless you have housing first.”

The Secretary of State James Brokenshire praised Finnish leadership in this issue and recognised that homelessness is at the intersection of many social problems.

Other speakers included Anita Birchall, the director of a Housing First trial at Threshold Housing Project, and Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis UK.

Birchall told about the results of the successful pilot project, which offered Housing First services for female offenders. The participants stayed in the service for 17 months on average and nobody reoffended. According to Birchall Housing First works because it takes into account the effects of trauma that homeless people often experience and prevents the accumulation of problems on individuals.

The most touching contribution came from Wayne Craft, a Housing First service user. Craft described how homelessness and mental health problems made him feel so paranoid that he had felt safer in prison than on the streets. During prison stints he had been offered help finding a job, but none for mental health problems, drug addiction and homelessness. With the help of Housing First services he has been off the streets and prison for four years and takes care of his black and white cat. Craft thanked everyone involved in bringing the model to Britain.

In October 2018 the Finnish Institute organised a similar event in Dublin in collaboration with the Finnish Embassy in Dublin and the Irish homelessness charity Focus Ireland.

People in the photo, left to right: Anita Birchall, Juha Kaakinen, Jon Sparkes, James Brokenshire, Wayne Craft and Päivi Luostarinen.

Text: Aura Saxén Photo: Embassy of Finland in London

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