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Social worker: Emergency housing for homeless merely temporary solution

An estimated 200 people residing in Helsinki don't have a home. The past few days have seen dangerously cold temperatures drop below -20 degrees Celsius in the city - and local homeless shelters have seen an uptick increase in traffic. Temporary emergency shelter is available to those in need, but a social worker says they are a short-term solution to larger problems.

File photo. Image: Helsingin Diakonissalaitos

About 20 people have spent each of the past few bone-chilling nights in warm beds at the Helsinki Deaconess Institute's emergency homeless shelter in Helsinki's district of Munkisaari. The facility has 55 spots, and hasn't filled up so far this winter, but the recent Arctic chill has increased demand.

A facility social worker here says that the double-digit subzero temperatures have made their destitute guests seem even more dejected than they usually are.

A social worker who works at the shelter, Milja Moilanen, says that the clients usually arrive cold and are often ill.  She says clients are now more depressed, worried and anxious about their lives, too.

Everyone welcome

During last winter there were reports of undocumented migrants being turned away from city shelters due to a lack of paperwork.

In November of last year the Helsinki City Board voted to open up the city’s emergency shelters to everyone in need, regardless of nationality or residential status.

Moilanen says that in the long run, Helsinki's roughly 100 temporary bed spaces aren't enough to serve the city's estimated 200 homeless residents in need.

She says that most of the shelter's clients are Roma from Romania and Bulgaria, but that anyone in need is welcome and can stay here anonymously.

The guests' respite from the cold outside is brief, however, as the shelter's doors open at 9 pm and guests must depart again at 7 the next morning.

When asked how it feels to usher clients out the door again into the cold, Moilanen says it doesn't feel good.