UK should follow Finland, the only European country where homelessness has decreased

The housing first model gives homeless people a stable place to stay

Samuel Osborne
Friday 16 September 2016 16:26
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Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, Finland

The UK's homelessness crisis is well documented.

According to a wide-ranging inquiry by MPs that published its findings last month, the number of rough sleepers in England rose by 30 per cent between 2014 and 2015 – and the Government's welfare reforms were blamed for driving this spike.

An expanded private rented sector is often cited as another root cause - but some experts have pointed to a new model in Finland that has seemingly reaped rewards and help make the Scandanavian country the only one in the EU to have seen a decline in homelessness in recent years.

Juha Kaakinen is chief executive of the Y-Foundation, a group which offers rental accommodation to people who are having difficulties in finding a home for themselves. He says the "housing first" model could have a significant impact on the UK as well.

The model aims to reduce long-term homelessness by giving people a stable place to stay, he tells The Independent. It also provides on-site personnel to help tackle risk factors such as joblessness or addiction.

Barber cuts hair of homeless

"The main thing is you have housing options and then support if it is needed," Mr Kaakinen believes.

The Y-Foundation lays out his theory on its website: "Each of us has the right to our own home and privacy.

"We help by offering affordable rental accommodation and by encouraging public discussion on themes related to homelessness.

"The Y-Foundation wishes that decision-makers would gain more understanding of how homelessness can be reduced and why it’s imperative to do so."

The Y-Foundation builds and renovates buildings across Finland to provide social housing.

Mr Kaakinen says it is a more cost-effective method to reduce homelessness than temporary solutions such as shelters or hostels, and can save at least €15,000 (£12,740) per person each year.

By the end of 2015, fewer than 7,000 people were homeless in Finland and the number continues to decrease as a result of supported housing blocks.​

By contrast, a recent report by the Communities and Local Government Committee on homelessness said it was "cautious about investing further in housing first in England because of the severity of England’s homelessness challenge and the scarcity of funding and of social housing".

In response, Mr Kaakinen said: "I don't think in any Western countries there is a lack of resources for social housing. It's a political question if you are going to put money on social housing, because it is the main stock that makes it possible to get out of homelessness."

"Social housing is also a very good preventative measure," he added.

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