Finnish homelessness and its characteristics
Changes in housing markets, among others, affect the phenomenon of homelessness. According to statistics, there are about 2,8 million dwellings in Finland of which about 60 % are owner-occupied, 30 % rented properties and 1 % right-to-occupancy housing. About half of rented properties are social housing funded through the ARAVA system. Since 1990, a total of about 600 000 new homes have been built in Finland, i.e. on average of 30 000 homes a year, which is however less than in the 1980s when the housing stock grew at an average of 37 000 homes annually. Finnish housing markets are strongly cyclical: changes in economic growth are often seen in even greater changes in the price of housing and price levels have been fairly volatile. (Luomanen 2010.) A simplified picture of the Finnish housing market is a following.
Characteristics and features of Finnish homelessness
In Finland, homeless include the following categories (Luomanen 2010):
- People staying outdoors, staircases, night shelters etc.
- People living in other shelters or hostels or boarding houses for homeless people (c. 1000 people)
- People living in care homes or other dwellings of social welfare authorities, rehabilitation homes or hospitals due to lack of housing (almost 1500 people)
- Prisoners soon to be released who have no housing
- People living temporarily with relatives and acquaintances due to lack of housing (the majority of the homeless, almost 5000 people)
- Families and couples who have split up or are living in temporary housing due to lack of housing
In the 1960's homelessness was mainly associated with alcoholism and unemployment, and a broad range of housing solutions related to social care was developed to meet the needs of such persons. These included nursing and care homes, temporary residential homes and night shelters. Since then shelter accommodation and housing services under the Finnish Social Welfare Act have functioned in parallel, overlapping and complementing one another. Throughout, shelter accommodation has mainly been developed by faith-based organisations and other charitable bodies. However, the number of shelter places has declined significantly in the last four decades. For example, in 1970 there were 3665 such places in Helsinki, but this had reduced to only 558 by 2008 (Fredriksson 2009). This downward trend in shelter provision, combined with the lack of substitute housing solutions, has meant that there is often an unmet need for such provision, especially during harsh winters. Seasonal emergency accommodation has therefore often had to be put into place, for example over the winter of 2005/6. (Fredriksson & Tainio 2009.)
Most of the homeless in Finland are over the age of twenty-five, who are on their own, poor, urban dwellers, native Finns, staying with friends temporarily and mainly men, some of whom are working. After the 1980's the group has become more diversified and the proportion of women, young people and immigrants among the homeless has increased. Despite the overall reduction in homelessness, the measures are not believed to have helped the long-term homeless, as the proportion of people with multiple problems has increased which has brought its own challenges in finding accommodation for the homeless.
Geographically homelessness is concentrated in the growth centre areas where most of the immigration is targeted and which have the largest population growth: in 2007, about half of the country’s population lived in the Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Oulu regions, but as much as 80 % of the country’s homeless were also found there. Homelessness is a particular problem in the Helsinki region which accounts for about half of all the homeless in the country.
It is worth remembering that the picture given by the statistics of the phenomena of homelessness only indicates the trend. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of homeless, because people are defined being homeless only when they apply for services within the public sector, such as applying for a home or for services for people with intoxicant use problems. In addition, the basis for the definitions vary by municipality, and the level of accuracy of the information can vary annually even within municipalities. (Luomanen 2010.)
Long-term homelessness in Finland
According to the definition of ARA long-term homelessness refers to a person whose homelessness has lasted or threatens to last for over a year due to social or health reasons or whose homelessness has been repeated during the past three years. A person whose homelessness has become prolonged and chronic, or is threatening to become chronic, because normal housing approaches have not worked, and because there have been insufficient housing solutions tailored to individual needs. This group of homeless consists of roughly 40-50 persent of all single homeless people in Finland. (Kettunen 2011.)
A profile of LTH in Finland (stereotype)
- Divorced, middle-aged or older man
- the numbers of the young are growing
- Member of uneducated working/unemployed class
- Member of original population
- growing immigration will change the situation in the near future
- Severe alcohol abuse and/or mental health problem
- Long history of unsuccesfull treatments/housing
Measures taken to fight long-term homelessness
It is internationally acknowledged that in order to reduce homelessness, both an apartment and services are needed. With the help of The Finnish National Programme to Reduce Long-Term Homelessness 1600 new apartments have been constructed for homeless people. The programme is also engaged in developing new service concepts for homeless people.
According to the housing first principle housing as an unconditional prerequisite and individually tailored support services belong to homeless people. Primary task of the support is to safeguard housing retention. Housing services operating on the housing first principle are developed in many countries, also in Finland. Finnish Name on the door development project aims to develop housing services using housing first principle.