Housing First starts with providing housing for those experiencing homelessness rather than making it an end goal.
The Housing First is a model for addressing homelessness that has received widespread adoption in progressive European countries, though it was developed by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in New York. Housing First’s approach is simple in theory though it flips the standard support model for homelessness on its head. It starts with providing housing rather than making it an end goal—allowing people with significant needs the dignity of a home and providing them with additional services to live successfully.
In Helsinki, Finland, rates of homelessness are falling thanks to broad support for the Housing First model. The Guardian reported on the success of Helsinki’s affordable housing efforts in an interview with Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation, which develops supportive and affordable housing to homeless individuals in Finland:
“We had to get rid of the night shelters and short-term hostels we still had back then. They had a very long history in Finland, and everyone could see they were not getting people out of homelessness. We decided to reverse the assumptions. We decided to make the housing unconditional. To say, look, you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.” - Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation
Jon Henley of The Guardian reports that Finland leveraged a mix of state, municipal, and NGO backing to buy flats, build new developments, and convert old shelters to permanent homes.
All of this is in the context of a city with a longstanding social housing program with over 60,000 units owned by the City of Helsinki — creating an environment where many locals are more open to progressive housing policy and the "right to housing".
Highlights from Housing First in Finland
In Finland, the initial goal was to build 2,500 new homes. Over 3,500 have been built and counting.
Homeless has fallen by more than 35 percent since 2008 when the Housing First strategy launched.
"Rough sleeping" or sleeping outdoors has nearly been eradicated. Only one 50-bed shelter is still in operations due to the success of Housing First.
Around €250m was spent building these homes and hiring permanent support staff for many buildings.
Finland has spent €250m on the housing production and hiring 300 extra support workers.