Tuesday 25 June 2019

Finnish model shows how a more radical approach could solve homeless problem

Defended: Bob Jordan, the National Director of Housing First in Ireland. Picture: Mark Condren
Defended: Bob Jordan, the National Director of Housing First in Ireland. Picture: Mark Condren
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The Government needs to adopt a more radical approach if it wants to solve the homelessness crisis, according to Juha Kaakinen, the chief executive of the Y Foundation, which owns a stock of 16,700 low-cost social housing units in Finland.

In Ireland yesterday to attend a seminar hosted by the Ambassador of Finland Jaana Teckenberg on 'Housing First', a strategy to deal with those in long-term homelessness, Mr Kaakinen said Finland had completely transformed its approach to homelessness in 2008.

Instead of managing homelessness, the Finnish government announced its intention to end it, opting to transform temporary accommodation, like shelters and hostels, into permanent housing units with on-site support services.

For instance, the last large shelter in Helsinki, a 250-bed building, was converted in 2012 into 81 independent apartments, in which 88 residents now permanently reside.

In total, since 2008, 3,500 of these units have been provided as part of the new policy.

The result of this changed strategy is that Finland is now the only country in the EU where homelessness is declining and where family homelessness and rough sleeping has been virtually eradicated.

Although Housing First has been operating across Dublin's four local authorities since 2014, and is now being rolled out across the country, Mr Kaakinen said he was "not convinced" by the relatively low numbers who are being targeted.

Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, he said there was an over-reliance on emergency accommodation, such as shelters and homeless hubs, in Ireland and that these temporary solutions ultimately provide "more of an obstacle than a solution".

"People think, in a homeless crisis, that you need to provide emergency accommodation to deal with the problem, but it never works. You need to take a more radical step and totally change the structure.

"In Finland, we are very pragmatic. We looked at the information and the statistics and decided that 2,500 flats was a starting point and then we implemented that," he said.

Mr Kaakinen said that while Ireland's Housing First initiative is targeting 737 chronically homeless people over the next three years, that in the context of a homeless crisis in which nearly 10,000 people are now living in emergency accommodation, he was "not convinced" by those numbers, believing them to be too low.

"In Finland, we completely changed our entire approach to dealing with homelessness on a national level. In Ireland, it seems that there are small projects that being upscaled but these projects are too small to have any real impact on the numbers of homeless," he said.

Bob Jordan, the National Director of Housing First in Ireland, defended the strategy as just "one part of an overall integrated strategy" - Rebuilding Ireland.

He said that, since 2014, 214 homeless individuals had secured tenancies in Dublin as part of the Housing First programme and that over 85pc of these people had remained permanently out of homelessness.

"This isn't a plan to end homelessness, it's a plan to reduce long-term homelessness," he said, noting the individuals who would benefit from the scheme are those with a history of rough sleeping and complex needs around mental health and addiction.

However, he did concede that "the elephant in the room is supply, particularly single-person housing units", echoing Mr Kaakinen's observation that "you can't have Housing First without housing".

Irish Independent

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