The Finnish National Programme to Reduce Long-Term Homelessness I (PAAVO I)

Homelessness reduction programmes realized in years 2001-2005 form a backround of the PAAVO I Programme. In accordance with the programme of the second Lipponen administration (1999-2003), measures to reduce homelessness were intensified at the change of the millennium. At that time there were about 10 000 homeless in Finland. The Ministry of the Environment established a multidisciplinary working group on the 19.9.2000 which drew up a homelessness reduction programme for 2001-2003 to cover the ten municipalities with the largest numbers of homeless. It was later decided to extend the programme to 2005. In addition, for 2002-2005 a separate programme of action to reduce homelessness in the Helsinki area. The objective of the programme was to interrupt the growth of homelessness which required the construction/acquisition of about 1000 new dwellings annually.


The implementation of the programmes and the results were regarded as fairly successful. The growth in the number of homeless was arrested and the number of homeless even reduced during the period of the programme in spite of the fact that it was not possible to increase the number of small rented properties in line with objectives. The national programme was considered successful precisely because it strengthened the work being done at local level and activated a lot of different local projects and new activities. The significance of the actual work of the programme was greater in the Helsinki region than in other municipalities.


The most important recommendation for the future from the evaluation of the reduction programme was to implement a new homelessness reduction programme which targets the elimination of long term homelessness among those who most need support services. The programmes from 2001-2005 already recognised the importance of housing support services. More attention than previously was paid to the homeless who are difficult to house, and the importance of improving basic services and the services intended for the homeless was emphasised, in addition to just providing housing. The concept was not however realised in the best possible manner, rather there was too much concentration on the amount of housing produced at the expense of quality targets. This was seen in such things as forgetting to resource services and failures in measurement and monitoring of quality targets.


Group of the Wise report and the programme working group report

In May of 2007, the Ministry of the Environment set up a working group known as the Group of the Wise to prepare to draw up a new programme for eliminating long-term homelessness (2008-2015). Once the group's report was ready a programme working group was established which, on the basis of the Group of the Wise report, drew up a new programme for eliminating long-term homelessness for the period 2008-2015. The tasks of the programme working group was to make concrete the proposals contained in the Group of the Wise report and evaluate what would be required to implement them.


The task of the group was to carry out a preparatory study: among other things, they were to consider the nature of homelessness in Finland and evaluate existing services from the perspective of the homeless. In addition they were to present preliminary proposals for new types of measures to reduce long-term homelessness. The Group of the Wise saw three problem areas in the previous homelessness reduction measures:


1) Matching: Support measures directed to the homeless often did not even meet the needs of the long-term homeless, or simply did not reach them. In addition, new people were becoming homeless all the time which indicates gaps in the support system.


2) Implementation: Implementation of the preferential treatment intended for the long-term homeless was slow, and there were many reasons for that. The lack of appropriate building sites had caused the most problems.


3) Support: Insufficient support had been provided. The problem had been a lack of finance, coordination and appropriate support.


The group presented the ethical, legal and economic bases for eliminating homelessness and on these bases, put forward proposals for reducing long-term homelessness. An extremely important starting point was the “housing first” principle, which is used as the philosophical starting point for the programme and a practical guiding concept that permeates the whole programme. In the report it was stated that because of changes in the nature of homelessness, new kinds of housing policy, and social and health policy, solutions were needed. The resources targeted at helping the individual homeless person had to be greater than previously, because the remaining homeless, who are difficult to house, need more intensive support than the groups of homeless that have already been housed.


The Group of the Wise proposed a target of halving long-term homelessness by 2011 and eliminating it entirely by 2015. In practice the quantitative target was presented as a total of 2500 new dwellings or care places directed towards the homeless. Of these, 1600 would be in Helsinki, 400 elsewhere in the Helsinki region and 500 in other growth centres that are suffering from homelessness. The target set by the group was included, with some small changes in both the programme working group's report and the Government's decision in principle.


The report of the Group of the Wise presented a new kind of operating model: Dormitory type solutions would be almost totally abandoned and, even for those difficult to house, the primary solution would be ordinary rentals in accordance with the Act on Residential Leases, and these would be supported by, for example, a mobile support team. Alongside this model, serviced housing in accordance with Social Welfare Act was proposed for those who needed more intensive support. The change in the programme regarding dormitory accommodation is based directly on both the “housing first” principle and the section in the Constitution of Finland to a person's right to peace at home and privacy, which was emphasised by the working group, and it is included unchanged in the programme working group's report (financing was altered later). Other proposals that were included in the programme working group's report included altering the State's housing funding to build cheap housing for the homeless, keeping RAY's investment aid, supporting the salaries of support personnel, developing housing advice, concept competition and the establishment of a development unit for services for the homeless.


There were no proposals for special systems or properties for women or immigrants, but the Group of the Wise proposed special measures to be targeted at preventing and averting homelessness among two groups; young people and newly released prisoners.


Government’s decision in principle for years 2008-2011

The long-term homelessness reduction programme for 2008-2011 (PAAVO I) is part of the second Vanhanen administration’s housing policy programme which defines the central measures of housing policy for the period of the government. The Government took a decision in principle to implement a long- term homelessness reduction programme on 14.2.2008. The decision in principle presented the background to the programme, its objectives and measures which closely follow the proposals of the programme working group.


The objective of the programme is:
1) To halve long-term homelessness by 2011
2) to intensify measures to prevent homelessness


The requirement to create about 1250 new dwellings, supported housing or care places directed towards the long-term homeless by 2011, was set as a quantitative target. Of these 750 would be in Helsinki, 125 in Vantaa, 125 in Espoo and a total of 250 in Tampere, Turku, Lahti, Kuopio, Joensuu, Oulu and Jyväskylä.



a)  measures directed to reducing long-term homelessness
Action plans and letters of intent: In accordance with the proposal of the programme working group, the participating cities had to draw up action plans which identified the need for housing solutions and support, preventive measures, projects to be implemented and other measures. The plans were to be ready by 31.3.2008, after which, by 30.5.2008, the State and cities together would have drawn up letters of intent which defined the State’s participation in the funding of the measures.


Funding: In accordance with the decision in principle, the projects would be financed by the Housing Fund of Finland (ARA), the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) and Finland’s Slot Machine Association (RAY). ARA will provide a maximum of EUR 20 million a year of investment grants to approved projects in the programme, in accordance with the programme, MSAH will support the production of the support services for new housing service units by providing State subsidy for 50 % of the salary costs and RAY will participate by funding  the programme for converting dormitory accommodation into supported dwellings (EUR 18 million), and by supporting the organising and development of supported housing for newly released prisoners and clients of the Probation Service from 2009-2011 (EUR 2.5 million).


Development project for housing homeless prisoners: Together with the organisations that provide housing services in the cities participating in the programme, the Crime Sanctions Agency will implement a development project concentrated on providing supported housing for homeless prisoners. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Environment will be responsible for the implementation of the project, the municipalities for organising housing and support services and the Crime Sanctions Agency will coordinate the project and provide its specialist expertise of the criminal sector.


b)  prevention of homelessness

Young people’s supported housing project: In order to prevent homelessness, it was decided in the decision in principle to implement a joint project including the State, cities, the church, companies and organisations to provide supported housing for young people.


Housing advice: It was decided to include the national direction of housing advice within the tasks of ARA, and it was decided to give State funding to housing advice in the municipalities for the years 2009-2011.


Concept competition: The Ministry of the Environment, Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (before STAKES, now THL), and the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Tampere were to arrange a national concept competition in 2008 to establish dwellings and services for the long-term homeless. The cities reserved sites and properties for the competition and the State and municipalities were jointly responsible for the funding. The Ministry of the Environment had overall responsibility for the implementation of the project. (Luomanen 2010.)


Read more:


Luomanen, Riikka (2010): Host Country report. Long term homelessness reduction programme 2008-2011. Ministry of the Environment Finland.


Busch-Geertsema, Volker (2010): The Finnish National Programme to reduce long-term homelessness. Synthesis Report. European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.


Busch-Geertsema, Volker (2010): The Finnish National Programme to Reduce Long-Term Homelessness. Discussion Paper. Bremen, Germany: GISS – Association for Innovative Research and Social Planning.


Fredriksson, Peter & Tainio, Hannele (2009): The Finnish Homelessness Strategy : From a ‘Staircase’ Model to a ‘Housing First’ Approach to Tackling Long-Term Homelessness. European Journal of Homelessness Vol. 3, December 2009.



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