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Finland struggles to meet demand for family shelters

The majority of shelter residents are women and children but in 2019, 208 men sought refuge at such facilities.

turvakoti helsingin marjaniemessä.
Finland currently does not have enough shelters to meet demand, but more are on the way. Image: Markku Rantala / Yle

The number of residents occupying shelters in Finland has increased by 75 percent in five years, according to a new report by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL.

THL development manager Joonas Peltonen said that the rise in demand for shelter places is due to an increase in access to facilities after legislation took effect and government began to fund the service in 2015.

In 2019, a total of 5,354 people sought refuge in shelters, an increase of six percent on the previous year. Nearly half of shelter residents last year were children.

On average, residents spent 17 days in a shelter and facilities racked up more than 92,000 days spent by residents overall in 2019.

Violence not new to many residents

More than half of customers said that it was their first time in a shelter. However the THL said that violence is not new to many residents and that many had experienced it for some time.

"Annually, a few hundred residents report that they had experienced violence for less than a month before seeking a place at a shelter. Last year about 700 customers said that violence [in the home] had lasted more than five years," Peltonen said in a THL statement on Monday.

The majority of shelter residents in Finland are women. Last year there were 208 men living at family shelters. In general, residents’ ages range from 25 to 44 years, while most children are under the age of four.

More shelters planned

Finland currently has a total of 29 shelters, the newest of which opened its doors this year in Kerava, roughly 30 kilometres north of Helsinki.

The THL is to put out a call for new shelters from 8 June. The public health agency said that it wants to strengthen the network of facilities, especially in areas that currently do not have such services.

It also wants to establish shelters in areas where the service cannot sufficiently meet demand.

"Although we have been able to significantly increase the number of shelters in recent years, we are not yet at that stage where we have enough easily accessible shelters to meet the need," Peltonen said.

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