Housing First: How Finland is Eradicating Homelessness

Top Image: Väinölä © Courtesy of Housing First

By Allie Murray

Across Europe, more than 700,000 people are homeless—a number that has increased by 70 per cent in the last ten years.

In 2020, the European Parliament pledged to end homelessness in Europe by 2030, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness numbers in the majority of Europe grew—except in Finland.

With the support of a local initiative called Housing First, Finland has decreased its homeless population from around 20,000 in the 1980s to approximately 3,950 today.

What they are doing differently is a shift in mindset—by simply putting housing first, the country has been able to drastically reduce the number of people sleeping on the streets.

The program, established by the Finland government, operates on the idea that having a place to live is both a human right and a basic right.

Sisäkuva Ruoritie © Courtesy of Housing First
Sisäkuva Ruoritie © Courtesy of Housing First

People facing homelessness in Finland are given permanent housing, ranging from a self-contained apartment to a housing block. Similarly, they receive individually tailored support services. Depending on their income, they can contribute to the cost of the support services they receive, and the rest is covered by the local government.

Since the program started in 2007, they have helped to take thousands of people off the streets and provide them with supportive housing—including a 58-year-old male who lost his home due to substance abuse.

“I lost my own apartment in 2010 because of alcohol,” the anonymous male shared in Housing First’s book A Home of Your Own. “I initially spent a month in hospital because of health problems. From there, I was directed to a supported housing unit meant for substance abuse rehabilitation for six months. After that I lived in a unit with social services meant for the long-term homeless for four and a half years.”

Now five years sober and living in his own apartment in Väinölä, he shared that he finally feels at home.

Ulkonäkymä Ruoritie © Courtesy of Housing First
Ulkonäkymä Ruoritie © Courtesy of Housing First

To continue reducing their homeless population, the Finland government has launched and funded projects and the construction of new, affordable housing. The Y-Foundation, a local organization that provides affordable rental housing, rents them out to people experiencing homelessness or living on a low income.

The Y-Foundation offers two types of homes—the Y-Kodit (kodit meaning home in Finnish) and the M2-Kodit. The Y-Kodit apartments are offered to those with a homeless background or those who have become displaced from the rental housing market. There are also apartments available in Y-Kodit for specific target groups like people under 35 or seniors.

The M2-Kodit is owned by the Y-Foundation and rents apartments to those who are looking for a home. The tenant selection is based on social relevance and financial need.

The Y-Foundation is operating on a mission to ensure that everyone in Finland has a home. The organization is working with partners in Finland to eradicate homelessness in the county by 2027—and the City of Helsinki has an even more ambitious goal, working towards ending homelessness by 2025.

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