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Homeless growing in Helsinki

Homeless individuals need support as well as shelter. The government agency Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA) estimates that at the end of 2012 there were nearly 3,000 long-term destitutes in Finland and more than 7,500 people living without permanent shelter.

Nainen nukkuu sohvalla Mustassa Lampaassa.
Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

Finland observes the Night of the Homeless on Thursday. While government hopes to eliminate homelessness by the year 2015, estimates are that more than 7,500 people in Finland don’t have permanent shelter.

“Long term homelessness refers to people who have no shelter for a continuous period of one year, or who are periodically homeless over a period of three years. The number includes people whose basic problem is not having a home, as well as people who also have psychosocial problems,” said researcher Riitta Granfelt.

A research project by the University of Tampere and the Academy of Finland is trying to get to the bottom of the complexity of the homeless problem. According to Granfelt, previous attempts to tackle homelessness saw gains such an increase in numbers of new homes. However it failed to even halve the number of long-term street dwellers, let alone eliminate the problem.

Shelter a basic right for all

Destitution is most intractable in the capital city area and especially in Helsinki. The central reason behind the crisis is a shortage of small and affordable housing; however support services for the homeless are as important.

"We want to develop services that homeless people themselves can be a part of. The NGO “No Fixed Abode” has done a big job in this regard,” Granfelt said.

"In our project, workers focus on their customers’ needs and where they’re starting from. Support can involve activities such as home visits first three times a week, then once a week. The intention is not to visit people at home. Professional home visits are used as a follow-up method in cases such as prisoners who have been released. Visiting someone at home is very different from seeing them in a facility or a public office,” she added.

For the long-term homeless it’s most important to first secure shelter before tackling other problems. “It’s not possible to deal with psychosocial problems unless an individual has a permanent and safe home that can provide sufficient privacy: a door that can be locked with a key,” Granfelt stressed.

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