‘Housing first’ principle – based on the idea first put forward by New York community psychologist Sam Tsemberis in 1992, that providing permanent, unconditional housing should be the first priority in addressing homelessness, rather than more common ‘staircase’ or ‘treatment-led’ approaches in which individuals must graduate through stages of treatment or rehabilitation before earning permanent housing. According to the Housing First principle, issues that contribute to homelessness (such as unemployment, addiction, mental health issues etc.) can be more fully and meaningfully addressed once permanent housing is provided. This shifts the aim from temporarily managing homelessness, to instead attempting to end it altogether.
The Housing First philosophy is underpinned by eight core principles: housing is a human right; choice and control for service users; separation of housing and treatment; recovery orientation; harm reduction; active engagement without coercion; person-centred planning; flexible support for as long as is required.
- Finland is the only European country where homelessness has decreased in recent years, and rough sleeping has been eradicated altogether
- Housing First policy was adopted at a national level in 2007, with the focus on long term homelessness
- By 2015 long term homelessness had declined by 35%, and more than 1,500 homes and packages were created
- This is in contrast with most other European countries, in which homelessness had increased over the same period
- In 2016, the focus was shifted to prevention of homelessness
- The success of Finland’s Housing First model is attributed to its adoption at a national level into mainstream policy, which then allowed its strategic implementation at a number of levels, through the cooperation of state, and municipal governing bodies, as well as NGOs and other service providers.
- A practical reason for the strategy’s success was the investment in social housing, with the focus placed away from expensive emergency and temporary housing, and instead on more permanent solutions. This meant hostels and shelters that were previously used for emergency housing were converted to independent apartments with onsite staff; apartments were bought from the private market and new facilities for supported housing were built.
- While there have been some pilot projects in Australia, such as Mission Australia’s Common Ground in Sydney, there has not been the same level of unified, national approach as that of Finland.
Some other important/interesting resources:
- Y-Foundation, Finnish NGO that develops and provides housing within the Housing First scheme
- TedTalk from Juha Kaaniken, CEO of the Y-Foundation, about the main ideas and features of the Housing First concept
- Centre for Public Impact – looks at the Housing First model in detail in terms of its success and overall impact
- This comprehensive Guardian article from 3 July 2019
- Another comprehensive article in Inside Story
- The Finnish Homelessness Strategy – An international review – looks in detail at the first two stages of the strategy from 2008-2011 and 2012-2015, the aims of which were to reduce long-term homelessness.
- Finnish Ministry for Environment Action Plan for Prevention of Homelessness 2016-19 – more detailed information on specific figures and government policy
- Housing First Europe Hub – information about different housing first programs across Europe, including the Housing First Guide – Europe, which explains the principle in depth and how it has been applied in a number of European contexts.