Observations from the first year of the Finnish Name on the door project – recommendations for the long-term homelessness reduction programme for years 2012-2015
Name on the door is a project (2010-2012) developing the Finnish applications of the housing first (HF-)principle within the housing services of the cities of Espoo, Helsinki, Tampere and Vantaa together with the Helsinki Deaconess Institute and the NGO’s No Fixed Abode and Siltavalmennus. The Tekes-funded project is part of the Finnish national programme to reduce long-term homelessness (PAAVO I) ongoing the years 2008–2011.
The Government initiated PAAVO has aimed at halving the long-term homelessness in ten Finnish municipalities by for example building reasonable low demand rented apartments and changing the existing conventional shelters into supported, rented accommodation units. The core part of the programme has been the financing of support services targeted to housing. According to the recent statistics the aims of the national programme have been reached and the long-term homelessness has been reduced or even halved in the participating municipalities.
In the municipalities participating in the Name on the door project, several projects have been realized with the support of the government programme. Together over 200 different actors working with the question of homelessness have taken part in the Name on the door project’s network meetings. Also a variety of formerly homeless people in the role of experts by experience and researchers have participated in these meetings.
On request from the PAAVO steering group this paper presents some of the core observations and conclusions of the development work done in the Name on the door project so far. These findings are ought to work as guiding ideas for the realization of the second national long-term homelessness reduction programme. These proposals are based on the aim of ending the long-term homelessness until 2015.
Observations for the support of the realization of PAAVO II
OBSERVATION 1: One of the core challenges in ending the long-term homelessness is the attitude of the service providers towards the disruptive substance abuse and violent situations. If there is a genuine will to end homelessness regardless of the nature of people’s problems, the only option is to increase those HF-services where the change of the way of living and the housing retention are not connected together. This means more neighbourhood tolerance, when implementing the HF-principle through scattered site housing is not possible for those homeless with the most difficult substance abuse and/or mental health problems.
CONCLUSION: All the biggest cities are in need of high tolerance housing units where intoxicant use is allowed. In their work these units should aim at phased realization of the HF-principle in order to support the rehabilitation process of their tenants towards independent housing. Introducing the HF-principle especially for people with mental health problems requires both round-the-clock support and the permanent collaboration of psychiatric know-how and housing services. The working and the evaluation methods of the housing units should be developed so that those capable and willing for independent living are guided towards more self-reliant living.
OBSERVATION 2: Staff at the housing units permitting intoxicant use encounter the most difficult dimensions of the HF-principle. As the providers of the housing services have agreed on housing people without the need of change in their lifestyles, the staff has for example no authority to evict even the most disturbing tenants. According to some findings in the Name on the door project, the housing units have instead of actual evictions created new means of ejecting such tenants. Along with these methods disappears the basic idea of the HF-principle and the base for the rehabilitation process - housing retention and safety.
CONCLUSION: The staff of the HF-housing units face new challenges. Plans for housing social education as part of existing social and health care education should be furthered. The purpose of the education should be to offer a strong basic know-how for working in the housing services, so that a further education could be attached to it. While making sure that education gives sufficient knowledge about the practices of the social sector it must be ensured that the service providers and the staff have sufficient knowledge and understanding about the essential housing and privacy related legislation.
OBSERVATION 3: It has come up in the Name on the door project’s network meetings that housing units permitting intoxicant use also accept clients who are not substance abusers themselves and for whom this housing is not suitable. The intoxicant tolerant atmosphere should not become a norm, where all the tenants should adjust themselves. What has also become clear is that in the housing units the housing expences together with service fees can easilly soar high, but the resources for the next stage independent scattered site apartments in the municipalities are scarce.
CONCLUSION: People should be offered flexible paths away from the HF-units which allow intoxicant use and offer strong support. Alternative forms of housing should be offered: both intoxicant free units and affordable independent small apartments, where a multiprofessional in site support could be offered.
CONCLUSION: There is still a lack of reasonable small rental apartments in the municipalities. Resulting from the housing shortage channels from housing units with support services are congested and even people who are ready for more independent housing are stuck in supported housing units. Living in supported housing units holds a risk of hospitalism and for municipalities this oversized supported housing is cost-inefficient. The reasonable small rental apartments stock should be increased and in-house supportive services should be developed in all the municipalities.
OBSERVATION 4: Substance abuse is the most explicit factor to risk the housing retention and continuity. Alongside with homeless people abusing alcohol a new generation of addicts abusing alcohol as just one of the intoxicants has emerged.
CONCLUSION: Whether the challenge of homelessness is ought to be solved, the polydrug use as the most common form of substance abuse must be taken into consideration while developing the housing solutions, staff resources and the education. While arranging the drug addicts’ housing mental health problems, criminality and violence that often are connected to stronger drugs are to be taken into account. These are the core questions, whether there is a will to house the group of long-term homeless with major problems on housing retention and engagement on services.
OBSERVATION 5: The homelessness services in the municipalities are mainly connected to the substance abuse and mental health services. These services are often stigmatized as substance abusers’ services and do not suit everybody, for example the groups of the homeless young or the immigrants.
CONCLUSION: Also the housing of these groups should be safeguarded despite the fact that they are avoiding these traditional services. Being left outside the services often leads to worse problems and the accumulation of them. Based on the scattered site housing the HF-principle would work effectively as a preventative measure with the young who are in a risk of marginalisation. Also the immigrants’ who have no substance abuse problems acute housing problems should be taken care of and kept aloof from the intoxicant services.
While the biggest Finnish cities are setting the way the homelessness services are changing towards the model where everybody are offered housing by more humane means than before. Professionals working with homelessness related questions are fairly unanimous about the need of the allocated HF-services and possibly also about the need of the comprehensive paradigm shift. Nevertheless many are concerned about the ensuring of intoxicant free services to those who are in need of them. Also the staff safety and welfare are some concerns heard from the field.
For many the new housing units that allow intoxicant use and ensure privacy are intermediate phases or shelters enabling the rehabilitation before individual housing. In these new units the expenses have soared which means that the resources reserved to the development work should be allocated to the development of the HF-principle inside the HF-principle. This means that those able to individual housing should be redirected away from large housing units to individual scattered site housing.
For some these new units, that are rental agreement based, allow intoxicant use and that offer supported housing are the most suitable forms of housing. Housing privacy is better than before and people who are unable to change their living habits are not anymore required to do that. Working in these units requires strong proficiency and endless patience of the personnel. When the housing service system is changing, the education system should also be able to correspond to these new needs.
In Helsinki the 10th of June 2011
Project manager Marko Kettunen & Senior Researcher Riitta Granfelt