Hi,Why are there homelessness in Finland, among the Finnish, with all the...

Hi,Why are there homelessness in Finland, among the Finnish, with all the...


Why are there homelessness in Finland, among the Finnish, with all the available social security net in place? Are they not elibile for the help from the authorities?

I'm really curious about the phenomena.



First of all, a lot has been done for the homeless people in Finland. After the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless in 1987, the Government devised a multifaceted response to the problem. It included building of social housing, the creation of social welfare and health care services, and setting a target to provide a dwelling of minimum standards for every homeless person. The number of single homeless persons at that time was approxi-mately 18 000. In just 10 years, the number of homeless in Finland was cut in half. In 2006 some 7,400 households in Finland were listed as being homeless, including about 7,000 single people, and some 350 families. Homelessness is most concentrated in growing urban centres, and particularly in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area where more than half of all the homeless people in Finland live.

The city of Helsinki has developed a wide range of services to help the homeless. The social welfare services for homeless people are concentrated to a special welfare office (ASTU), which organizers a great variety of services and also coordinates the use of the services of other producers. There are homeless people also as clients in other welfare of-fices. The target of ASTU is to minimize the use of shelters and support the clients to live in normal rented housing. Often the routes to independent housing include rehabilitation and several stages. A variety of services and a range of different supported accomodation are needed since there are often several factors behind the process of social exclusion. Typical problems of the homeless are addiction problems, mental disturbance, problems in personal relationships, indebtedness, feeblemindedness and general inability to cope in everyday life (Asunnottomuus Helsingissä visiovuonna 2010).

There are still a number of problems, or cracks in the net, that forestall the reduction of homelessness especially here in Helsinki. First of them is the insufficient housing. Over 60 per cent of households in Finland live in owner-occupied dwellings. The average housing costs are quite high. This means that low-income groups have difficulties to afford housing which would meet their requirements. One obvious cause of the high housing costs is that housing production and housing policy are basically dependent on the market. The share of social rental housing is too small. Contrary to many other sectors of the welfare society, housing provision mainly relies on the free market. Single persons in particular face difficulties in finding reasonably priced rental dwellings. In the 1990’s the renunciaton of rent control made things even harder. The ongoing problem is that the muncipalities, especially Helsinki, have not been able to build enough affordable low-rent apartments. A serious plan to reduce homelessness, proposed in the housing strategy, was presented in 2001 to the Minister of Housing. It suggested that homelessness would be best reduced through common housing policy measures. On the basis of the program the cities in the capital region have signed a contract by which they have decided to increase the supply of dwellings for homeless persons. However, the measures have not been well implemented. The shortages of rental dwellings as well as the shortage of land available for housing production are the main hindrances, especially in Helsinki. There seems to be will, but not enough money; though sceptics may disagree justly.

Second is the multitude of problems of the homeless themselves. Long-term homeless people – people whose state of homelessness is classed as prolonged, or threatens to be that way, for social or health reasons – make up the ‘hard core’ of homelessness. People are clas-sed as long-term homeless in Finland if their homelessness has lasted at least a year or they have been homeless several times in the past three years. Such individuals commonly suffer from serious social and health problems, particularly those relating to substance abuse and mental health, and are consequently deemed to be in need of services and support if they are to be successfully housed. Although many long-term homeless persons have reduced functional ability and they would be entitled to make use of tailored housing services, problematic substance use is often a barrier to these services and also many times results in evictions from apartments. Tailored housing services target those homeless people whose functional ability has declined temporarily or permanently. The service involves the use of motivated, trained staff and is based on small unit sizes. The general rule with these units is that substance use must be controlled. Apparently the housing market and the welfare system manage to help most of these people to avoid a longer period of homelessness. The so called ‘rough sleepers’ without any permanent contact to services are a tough challenge to the helping system though. These are typically elderly men who stay and lodge on their own in the shacks or tents in the woods and fall outside most of the welfare benfits.

Welfare services are of vital importance in the fight against homelessness. The Finnish action plans and programmes for reducing homelessness have so far concentrated on housing. The supply of reasonably priced rental dwellings in the housing market is important also in the future. The role of support services has, however, become more and more important if one wants to find lasting solutions for the different groups of homeless people. It has been estimated that only one third of the homeless people in Helsinki can be helped by offering only a home (Pitkänen & Kaakinen, 2004). Of course new kinds of measures are required, too. Homelessness itself is changing. Drug problems are increasing rapidly. Homelessness becomes more hidden; young homeless persons are not willing to come to shelters. New kinds of special support measures are needed. Organisations that have special knowledge on this kind of work, are taking part in the carrying out a programme for reducing homelessness, faith based institutions for example. The Government has also implemented its own action plan for the reduction of homelesnees.

Sources and further reading on the subject:
Asunnottomuus Helsingissä visiovuonna 2010. Helsingin kaupunki, sosiaalivirasto, aikuisten vastuualue, sosiaalinen kuntoutus, asunnottomien sosiaalipalvelut. Paper 4.7.2005
Pitkänen Sari & Kaakinen Juha: Rajattomat mahdollisuudet. Esiselvitys pääkaupunkiseudun asunnottomien tuki- ja palveluasumisen kehittämissuunnitelmaa (2005-2007) varten. Ympäristöministeriön moniste 141. Helsinki 2004

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