‘It’s a miracle’: Helsinki’s radical solution to homelessness

Finland is the only EU country where homelessness is falling. Its secret? Giving people homes as soon as they need them – unconditionally


A homeless woman sits outside downtown Helsinki central station in 2011. The city has since virtually eliminated rough sleeping. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Tatu Ainesmaa turns 32 this summer, and for the first time in more than a decade he has a home he can truly say is his: an airy two-room apartment in a small, recently renovated block in a leafy suburb of Helsinki, with a view over birch trees.

“It’s a big miracle,” he says. “I’ve been in communes, but everyone was doing drugs and I’ve had to get out. I’ve been in bad relationships; same thing. I’ve been on my brother’s sofa. I’ve slept rough. I’ve never had my own place. This is huge for me.”

Downstairs in the two-storey block is a bright communal living and dining area, a spotless kitchen, a gym room and a sauna (in Finland, saunas are basically obligatory). Upstairs is where the 21 tenants, men and women, most under 30, live. 

It is important that they are tenants: each has a contract, pays rent and (if they need to) applies for housing benefit. That, after all, is all part of having a home – and part of a housing policy that has now made Finland the only EU country where homelessness is falling.

When the policy was being devised just over a decade ago, the four people who came up with what is now widely known as the Housing First principle – a social scientist, a doctor, a politician and a bishop – called their report Nimi Ovessa (Your Name on the Door).

“It was clear to everyone the old system wasn’t working; we needed radical change,” says Juha Kaakinen, the working group’s secretary and first programme leader, who now runs the Y-Foundation developing supported and affordable housing.

Pinterest Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation, which provides low-cost flats to homeless people across Finland. Photograph: Kirsi Tuura

“We had to get rid of the night shelters and short-term hostels we still had back then. They had a very long history in Finland, and everyone could see they were not getting people out of homelessness. We decided to reverse the assumptions.”

As in many countries, homelessness in Finland had long been tackled using a staircase model: you were supposed to move through different stages of temporary accommodation as you got your life back on track, with an apartment as the ultimate reward.

“We decided to make the housing unconditional,” says Kaakinen. “To say, look, 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.”

With state, municipal and NGO backing, flats were bought, new blocks built and old shelters converted into permanent, comfortable homes – among them the Rukkila homeless hostel in the Helsinki suburb of Malminkartano where Ainesmaa now lives. SOURCE

 

VANCOUVER B.C. says modular housing is working — here’s what it will look like in Maple Ridge

MAPLE RIDGE, B.C.—With the latest phase of a controversial modular housing project set to open in Maple Ridge, B.C. Housing says newly released statistics show the province’s “housing first” strategy is working.

The new numbers, released Tuesday, are based on surveys at the first seven supportive modular housing projects in Vancouver and Surrey.

The surveys of those living in the Vancouver and Surrey modular housing, though, has found the vast majority — 94 per cent — of them remained housed after six months.

Eighty-four per cent said the housing had improved their overall well-being, and more than half said their physical health had improved.

“As you can see, it’s making a difference in people’s lives,” B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson told Star Vancouver.

“By bringing people inside, helping them stabilize their health and have some safety, they are better able to focus on their other issues, whether that’s addictions issues or mental health,” Robinson said.

The statistics come as the province prepares to unveil its latest supportive modular housing development on Burnet Street in Maple Ridge.

Star Vancouver was given an advance copy of the report and a tour of the new building on Monday. It includes 51 individual units, each with its own washroom, kitchenette, full-sized fridge and an air conditioning unit.

Like the existing modular housing project on Maple Ridge’s Royal Crescent, the Burnet Street site includes a lounge area with a flat-screen TV, an overdose prevention room and an industrial kitchen that will serve meals at breakfast and dinner

It will also have wraparound services for residents, including outreach workers, wellness checks, life-skills training, employment programs and referrals to community services and support groups. Sixteen on-site support workers from Coast Mental Health will help provide referrals to Fraser Health for treatment and other clinical services.

The only substantial difference between the two sites is that units at the Burnet Street location are substantially larger than those at the Royal Crescent site. MORE

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