Housing first in Finland
The picture of a particular Finnish housing first model, whether there is one, is outlined during the Name on the door project (finished). The objective within the framework of the two national long-term homelessness reduction programmes is to settle over 3000 long-term homeless persons in 8 years. So far the HF-model in Finland seems to encompass parallel implementations of the traditional staircase model and the HF-model originating from the U.S. Even if some of the elements of the original Pathways to Housing HF-model are found in Finnish housing services, the model is not found in the country in its original form. For example because of the quantity of housing needed, large housing units are needed which hinders the development of scattered site housing.
HF as a theoretical frame of the development work
Understanding housing as a primary need has emerged in different places over the world mainly because of the development work done in the rehabilitating intoxicant and social service fields. In the Name on the door development project the housing first principle is extended not only to serve as a tool for social rehabilitation but also to work as a framework for the theoretical examination of the social service system and to analyse the different housing operations. The principle is utilised as an analytical method penetrating the whole service system.
Enforcing the model as a theoretical framework means that the different functions of service system are reflected to the premises of the housing first principle. It has been clear already in the early stages of the Name on the door project that a comprehensive implementation of the housing first principle in the service system also arouses international interest.
In the existing service system housing services are mainly those categorized as staircase models. In these models individuals should graduate through a social rehabilitation process in order to earn their own housing. Because of both the lack of individual capabilities, knowledge or motivation and the internal inconsistencies of the service system people fall from these stairs over and over again, and often even directly to the street. Some critics say that the present system at its worst maintains long-term homelessness. The staircase model works for those motivated, but how could the housing be ensured for those who are unwilling or uncapable to engage themselves with the services?
...or Housing First?
HF-principle starts from an opposite point of view. According to the principle instead of being a goal, housing is considered as a first step, a basis and a precondition for the start and for the success of social recovery process. In the HF-model individual's housing is secured with supportive treatment services. Needed social recovery processes can be started after housing retention is reached. HF-model has evidence-based results from the U.S. In Finland some housing first services have been put into place in recent years. These units have successfully housed long-term homeless people with severe mental and substance abuse problems who have been living in the streets for a long time in inhumane living conditions.
Criticism of the housing first
Housing first principle has encountered some critisism in Finland. Reducing the use of conventional shelters and changing them into supported, rented accommodation units has been seen as a challenge as the amount of long-term homeless living in rented accommodation is increasing but the amount of bed places in shelters is decreasing. In addition some argue that implementation of the housing first model will eradicate the great efforts put into the development of intoxication treatments and the HF has even been called as the "bottle first model". Also to some critics offering scattered site housing from privately rented houses, the housing is seen as a form of abandonment.
Challenges of the implementation
So far some of the challenges of the implementation of the housing first principle in Finland are: to reduce the intertwining of intoxication treatments and housing, to alleviate the institutionalization of services and service providers and to find service providers that are able and willing to work with the most difficult long-term homeless clients. Also self interests of professions and professionals are causing the lack of workforce with appropriate values and skills. One challenge is also related to the housing resources in general as in Finland there is a lack of both the scattered site and the single-site housing units.