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Finland has radically hacked homelessness. The United States isn't even close.

The Nordic country is the only one to see a downward trend in homelessness in Europe. The nation's secret lies in its revolutionary Housing First policy.

Finland has radically hacked homelessness. The United States isn't even close.
Image Source: New York City Agrees To Pause Relocation Of Homeless Families To Newark. NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Whenever we think about good public policy, we always look to Scandinavian or Nordic countries. Whether it's effective education or income equality, those folks seem to have gotten a lot of things right. Now, there's another thing they can add to their long laundry list of wins: housing. Finland, in particular, is making Europe proud. After introducing a radical new housing policy, the country saw homelessness drop by over a whopping 35 percent. There is still more work to do, but Finland has come quite a long way from where they started, The Guardian reports.




The policy that overturned Finland's housing situation was devised over a decade ago by four key individuals: a social scientist, a doctor, a politician, and a bishop. At the time, they called their final report Nimi Ovessa, which translates to "Your Name on the Door". It is now referred to as the Housing First principle. That is because the new housing policy relies entirely on trusting the homeless with, in many cases, their first homes as renters. Juha Kaakinen, the group’s secretary and first program leader, who now runs the Y-Foundation which develops supported and affordable housing, stated, "It was clear to everyone the old system wasn’t working; we needed radical change. 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."




Previously, homelessness in the Nordic nation was tackled through a "staircase" model. This model expected the homeless to move through various stages of housing as they got their lives back on track. An apartment was the final reward. Finland turned this model on its head. "We decided to make the housing unconditional," Kaakinen said. "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." Therefore, through state, municipal, and NGO support, several housing units were purchased by the government, new units were built, and short-term units (such as shelters) were converted to permanent housing units.




Housing First initially aimed to create 2,500 new homes; it created 3,500. Ever since the program was first launched in 2008, Finland has seen a massive drop in homelessness. Reports show that homelessness has decreased by over 35 percent. The policy was especially effective in Helsinki, where homelessness was largely concentrated. Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuor, stated, "We have reduced long-term homelessness by a remarkable amount. We must do more – better support, better prevention, better dialogue with residents: people really support this policy, but not everyone wants a unit in their neighborhood... But yes, we can be very proud."



Meanwhile, just across the pond, the United States isn't faring too well. Though homelessness is on a downward trend, a shocking 553,000 people were homeless for at least one night in 2018. Moreover, homelessness is concentrated in five states: California (24%), New York (17%), Florida (6%), Texas (5%) and Washington (4%). And like everything else in White America, homelessness is racialized too. Almost half of all those who are homeless are Black. And what is the United States doing about these abysmal statistics? Well, in Trump's economy, almost nothing. Shame, shame.


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