Paying back - Juha Kaakinen on Housing First
Housing First is a policy that's been getting a lot of attention. It has contributed to Finland's status as the only European country where homelessness has declined. Juha Kaakinen, Y-Foundation, previews his session at TAI 2017 explaining the principles behind the programme.
In 1986 as a young and eager civil servant for the city of Helsinki I travelled with two colleagues of mine to London for a study visit to learn how homelessness services are arranged. We went around for a week visiting several hostels and other services and saw many homeless people sleeping rough. We learned a lot and took some things back home. Next year the first day centre for homeless people was opened in Helsinki, homeless people founded an association of their own and a street newspaper. From that day on I have believed in international exchange: you can’t copy things but there is no limit how much you can learn from experience of others and simulate good practices and services into your own environment.
Recently there has been quite a lot of interest to Housing First in Finland as Finland has been the only European country where homelessness has decreased in recent years. It is true that there has been a steady decline in homelessness figures since 2008 and especially in long-term homelessness which has been mainly due to the national program to end long-term homelessness. In eight years we have provided over 3000 flats for long-term homeless people in individual scattered housing, in supported housing units and in service housing. The most striking results are probably that we have all but eradicated street homelessness and renovated and converted practically all existing hostels and shelters into supported housing units with on-site personnel and independent rental flats.
It has been an incredible partnership program with state authorities, municipalities and NGOs like Y-Foundation. I have learned that you need money and resources to do difficult things and that by combining the determination and will of passionate people working together you can accomplish things and achieve goals you thought were impossible.
Housing First is not necessarily “the magic word” that opens the gates to Paradise but for me Housing First and social housing is a winning combination. If you look a little closer at the development of homelessness in several European countries it is always related to the supply of social housing: less social housing, more homeless people and vice versa. And with social housing I mean real social housing: good quality affordable rental housing with services and ideally also job opportunities for tenants.
Now, after 30 years I think it is time to pay back. You may know that UK Secretary of State Sajid Javid is visiting Finland in the beginning of April to learn how we have implemented Housing First in Finland. I can assure you that he will get a “full treatment” and will return enlightened and convinced that ending homelessness is not only ethically necessary but also a realistic and economically viable goal for homelessness policy.