The Finnish Housing First approach began 2007 with a plan to eliminate homelessness by 2015. First and foremost, housing first is a principle – A home is a human right and the provision of stable and secure housing should always be the first support measure put in place. This model differs quite substantially from the previous “step-ladder” approach which positions housing as a reward for getting the rest of life on track. Instead, a home is the foundation upon which the rest of life can be put back together.
One of the key strategies of Housing First has been to replace shelters with more permeant and humane living arrangements, with a particular focus on reducing long-term homelessness. New financial instruments have been used to ensure a good supply of affordable housing on the market (e.g. state intervention through the purchase of housing units).
Units have also been built by the city, private companies, and other organisations. Once housing is secured, support is provided in a range of ways depending on the needs of the client, for example, assistance with substance abuse issues, managing their budgets and development of other living skills. Crisis support is provided 24/7 in supported housing. Support needs are re-assessed at regular intervals and people are also supported to hold on to their homes.
The overarching principles which guide the approach include:
- Housing enables independent lives,
- Respect of choice (housing is not conditional on, for example, sobriety),
- Rehabilitation and empowerment,
- Integration of the community and society.
Finland is the only European country where homelessness is declining. Since 1987 around 12 000 people have received a home and long-term homelessness has fallen by 35% (1 345 people).
The savings (measured as the services required by one person) can be up to 9 600 EUR per year. A few shelters still exist but spending night after night in them is no longer considered appropriate.
This approach could be implemented anywhere but is heavily dependent on the quality of the welfare system. Ironically, within the context of stronger welfare system there is greater incentive for such a program due to the greater incentive for cost saving.