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Why Housing First works

All eyes are on Finland when it comes to homelessness and a fascinating session on day two of TAI showed exactly why.

Thanks to its Housing First approach, Finland is close to ending street homelessness and a recent EU-wide study found that it is the only country in Europe where homelessness as a whole has fallen in the last few years.

Little wonder that both Welsh Government communities and children secretary Carl Sargeant and Westminster communities secretary Sajid Javid have both shown a keen interest.

Juha Kaakinen, chief executive of the Y Foundation, described what has been achieved in Finalnd since 2008.

Shelters have been replaced by supported housing, with 3,500 new homes built or purchased for homeless people plus intensive support from professional support services.

The argument that housing is a basic social right is at the heart of the Finnish approach but a study has also shown that housing with intensified support saves €15,000 a year per person.

Housing First began in the United States but Juha said the Finnish model was different, not least in it being a strategic programme across the country rather than just individual projects.

Hostels and shelters are also still part of the system in the original model whereas Finland no longer has any hostels and there is just one emergency shelter in Helsinki.

Finland also puts social housing first. Juha said Housing First is ineffective without a sufficient supply of affordable and good quality housing. ‘If you want to end homelessness you also need to build new houses,’ he said.

He said there was a need for an ethically conscious socially minded leadership in social housing that saw it as their job to take care of the most vulnerable people.

However, he said other countries should decide what works for them. ‘It’s extremely important that you make your Housing First model starting from your own environment. You can’t simply adopt an exported model, you have to make it your own.’

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