How Finland Cut Homelessness by 35% in 7 Short Years

Finland has decided to eradicate homelessness, and the results are incredible.

May 17, 2018

While other countries in Europe are suffering from a homelessness epidemic, Finland’s homeless community has been steadily declining. Whereas 30 years ago there were 18,000 homeless people in Finland, the latest statistics show that there are currently only about 7,000. This number even includes many people who are temporarily residing with family or friends.



These incredibly low figures are due to a government initiative that prioritizes the reduction of homelessness. The Finnish National Program to Reduce Long-term Homelessness, which started in 2008, joins Helsinki and 9 other cities in a commitment to get rid of homelessness.

The success of the program has been attributed to the strategic move away from the conventional European staircase model, which provides housing to the homeless only after several other rehabilitation processes. At the other end of the traditional method is the idea that providing housing first enables the homeless to overcome other problems.

“Solving social and health problems is not a prerequisite for arranging housing,” experts in the Ministry of the Environment explain. “Instead, housing is a prerequisite that will also enable solving a homeless person’s other problems.”

The method, currently called Housing First, was initially developed by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in the 1990’s to help former psychiatric patients. Finland decided to take the method to a new level by establishing it as a nation-wide strategy.

While Finland has been working towards the elimination of poverty since 1987, when they noticed that long-term homelessness was not declining and that they were in a crisis mode, they decided to rethink their strategy.

“Above all, homeless people need stability and content in their lives,” says project coordinator Emmi Vuorela.

The Housing First program created 1,250 new homes and provides around-the-clock support from trained staff for residents who need help.

“For a long time we dealt with homelessness in the traditional way,” says Sanna Vesikansa, the deputy mayor of Helsinki. “But it’s difficult for people to work on their problems if always in the morning they have to go out in the streets and then come back at night.”

Other European countries, such as England, have been inspired by Finland’s success, and are developing programs modeled after the Finnish Housing First plan.

While some who work inside the system were skeptical of the change, the program has shown incredible success. Across Finland, homelessness has fallen by 35 percent between 2008 and 2015.

“I am dealing with my problems here,” says Fernando, a resident of the Rukkila housing unit. “In the meantime, it’s nice to know that whatever happens I have a roof over my head no matter what.”

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.

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