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The city without its homeless people on its streets



View of the harbor and city hall in HelsinkiCopyright image
Getty Images

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Can Britain learn from Finland's approach to dealing with homelessness?

The number of people who sleep roughly in the UK has increased since 2010. But in the capital of Finland, Helsinki's rough sleep has almost been eradicated thanks to a revolutionary scheme. What Can Great Britain Learn From the Finns?

Leaving the grand central train station in Helsinki, on a fierce cold evening, it does not take much before you notice something unusual.

There are no rough thresholds and nobody prays.

The contrast with the major cities and cities in the UK – where harsh thresholds twisted into sleeping bags, blankets or tents are a common sight – is striking.

"In my childhood, I remember that there are hundreds or even thousands of people sleeping in parks and forests," says the Deputy Mayor of Helsinki, Sanna Vesikansa.

"It was visible, but we do not have it anymore. There is no street homelessness in Helsinki."

Over the past 30 years, dealing with homelessness has been a focus for successive governments in Finland.

In 1987 there were more than 18,000 homeless people there. The latest figures from the end of 2017 show that some 6,600 people are classified as homeless.

The vast majority live with friends or families, or are placed in temporary accommodation. Only a very small number actually sleep on the streets.

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AFP

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The average winter minimum temperature in Helsinki is -7C (19F)

So, how did the Finns succeed?

Since 2007, their government has built homeless policies on the foundations of the "Housing First" principle.

Simply put, it gives harsh thresholds or people who become homeless stable and permanent home of their own as soon as possible.

Then they provide the assistance and support they need. It can be support for someone who is trying to cope with addiction, helping them learn new skills, or helping them to learn, learn, or work.

This is very different from the traditional approach in the United Kingdom, where a permanent home is offered only after the homeless requests for help in homeless hostels or temporary accommodation.

One person who benefits is Thomas Salmi, who became a homeless person when he turned 18 and had to leave the orphanage.

He spent three years on the streets of Helsinki, where the average minimum temperature in February is -7C (19F).

"When you lose everything, it really does not matter," he says. "You're thinking of suicide, will I die? Is it safe?

"It's cool, especially in the middle of winter. If you sleep outside, you can die."

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Thomas Salmi bowed three cold winters on the streets of the Finnish capital

In the past two years, Thomas has his own apartment in a large complex, run by the Helsinki Deacon Institute (HID), one of the few organizations that provide accommodation for otherwise homeless Finns.

For 24 years now, he says that the HDI's life has helped him turn his life. He drank a lot while living on the streets, but now he only touches alcohol at the weekend.

Under Housing First, the home offering is unconditional. Even if someone is still taking drugs or abusing alcohol, he will still be in the house or in the apartment, as long as they cooperate with support workers.

They are not obliged to pay for rent and people can even choose to stay up to the end of their lives.

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Helsinki Deacon Institute

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The Helsinki Deacon Institute has more than 400 apartments for ex-homeless people

"They told me it was my house," said Thomas. "And I asked them – would anyone tell me: we need this house and you need to go? But they said to me," No, it's your house, you can do whatever you want. "

"When I have a stable home, I can try to build everything else around him like work, learning, family, friends. But when you're on the streets, you have nothing to do with it."

HDI has a total of 403 apartments in Helsinki and the neighboring city of Espoo.

Tenants gather in the communal kitchen to make lunch and socialize in the daily areas. Supporters are always at hand.

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HDI

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Pia Rosenberg has been out of the streets for four years now

Pia Rosenberg, 64, lived in the same Home First Project since 2014, after she was homeless for two years.

"I like it well because I'm an alcoholic and I'm allowed to drink in my room," she says. "And if I need help, then I will understand it.

"You do not feel good if you do not have a home".

According to official figures, the number of harsh thresholds in England has increased from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017.

Charities like Shelter say the real number of people who sleep is much larger. Official figures are based on the number of homeless people considered on the streets every autumn evening each year.

The Success of Housing First attracted the attention of the British government, which last year agreed to pay for pilot schemes in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and West Midlands.

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Media titleManchester is teaching lessons from the Finnish capital

Examinations should start soon and will be aimed at helping the most basic rough thresholds.

But is it a good idea to actually hand over the keys to accommodation, without any obligation to give up alcohol or drugs?

"We can see that it works in Finland, so why can not it work here," said Neil Korthwright, head of operations in the homeless charities Barnabus Manchester.

"There are many barriers for people to hide and certain groups of people are excluded from projects because of their addictions and / or their mental health.

"So if we have another option where we can put people in a home, and not just a bed, despite their problems, then I think it's a really positive step forward."

Will it work in the UK? While the scheme is considered to be successful in Finland, it has flaws. Homes are not always available immediately, and figures show that about one in five people return to homelessness at some stage.

Housing people in this way is not cheap. Finland spent about £ 262m (300m euros) in the past decade, providing 3,500 new homes for the homeless and more than 300 new support workers.

The UK government spends 28 million pounds on three housing schemes and hopes that around 1,000 homes will be provided.

One of the key architects of "Housing First" in Finland, Yuha Kaakinen, believes that this will work only if the UK authorities are fully committed.

"In many places," Housing One "are small projects with a small number of apartments available. It needs to be done much larger to put an end to homelessness and therefore it should be a national policy, otherwise it will not work."

Mr Kaakinen suggests that Britain's priority should be to deal with the housing crisis.

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Christopher Furlong

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The number of rough sills in England has increased since 2010

"The main issue seems to be the lack of affordable social housing. To solve homelessness, that's something you need otherwise it will be a very difficult task."

The great mayor of Manchester Andy Brenham is convinced that the scheme is the right answer though.

"You can not have good health or a good life without good housing," he says.

"I am confident that we will show that housing can work. I will ask the government to do this on a permanent basis."

Minister of Housing and Home Affairs, Heather Wheeler, insists that the government listen and take action.

"No one is intended to spend his lives on the streets, or without a home to call his own.

"And the evidence shows that housing First has an incredible success rate in helping people to restore their lives."

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Sana Vesikansa, deputy mayor of Helsinki

Back to Helsinki, Deputy Mayor Ms. Vesikana believes that tackling homelessness and completing rough sleep is not only a moral obligation, but also can save money in the long run.

"We already know that it is coming back, because we have costs elsewhere, if people are homeless, they have serious health problems that are then transferred to emergency medical care and to hospital.

"Homelessness and rude sleeping is something we simply can not have in our cities, people who die in the streets. It's not the kind of society or city we want to live in."


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