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Helsinki cuts aid to homeless NGO over "financial irregularities"

The NGO said the funding cut will hamstring its ability to provide drug rehabilitation, mental health and homeless services.

Markku Korhonen kertoo, että ennen asunnottomaksi joutumista, hän toimi yrittäjänä.
Image: Mari Jäntti / Yle

The NGO No Fixed Abode (VVA) is pushing back against a decision by the city of Helsinki to deny it funding because of its poor financial performance in 2017.

VVA applied for city funding for a drug-free recreational facility on the Helsinki island of Vartiosaari and one called Soldis in Espoo as well as for a peer support and volunteer centre, Vepa, in Vantaa. Vepa is a site that also offers visitors meals and where the number of clients is growing rapidly.

Last year the centre had nearly 19,000 visitors. In January 2018, it served just over 1,900 people and this January the number had risen to over 2,000. "Visitor numbers have been rising for a long time and I already communicated this to the city last year," said VVA head Sanna Tiivola.

Funding application rejected

Last year the NGO applied to the city of Helsinki for 30,000 euros to support its operations, which were in the red. VVA said that it sought funding specifically for the Vartiosaari and Soldis sites. It appealed the decision to deny the aid, an appeal the city's social and health care committee is expected to dismiss when it meets on Wednesday.

"We tried to overturn the funding decision, because our financial results from last year were good," Tiivola explained, acknowledging that the 2017 results were unusually poor.

"Last year's statement will be in the black," she stressed. "The city should have the new information about our finances, because it conducted an audit before it denied [us] additional funding."

In previous years, VVA received 25,000 euros for its operations. Last year the figure fell to 15,000 euros as it was sanctioned for poor financial performance.

Irregularities in financial management

The city attributed its decision to deny aid to irregularities in VVA's financial management. Deputy mayor Sanna Vesikansa said that the city wants all of its partners to ensure that their financial data can withstand scrutiny.

"This is a good organisation with important operations, but all of our partners [abide by] the same principles. They must meet certain requirements and in terms of financial management, the operation must be above board -- for small as well as large organisations," she commented.

The next opportunity to seek financial assistance from Helsinki will be in autumn this year. Every year the city grants more than six million euros to NGOs in the social and health care sector.

Homeless to be affected

The organisation said that it plans to continue its operations, even if the city dismisses its appeal to overturn the decision to deny funding.

"We will do the minimum and of course we can try to find funding from elsewhere, but to be direct, this is really callous on the city's part," Tiivola charged. VVA can continue to operate using funding from the Social Affairs and Health Ministry's STEA programme, which Tiivola said is currently used to pay the salaries of two peer counsellors.

The NGO will now look to scale back its Vartiosaari operation, which it says has increased marine traffic to the island. Similarly, it will not shutter its Vepa centre, but due to a rise in visitor numbers it will need a larger space and more workers.

VVA currently is also renting from the city a sauna and an annex on the mainland opposite Vartiosaari. It serves a drug-free peer group. While fresh visitor data for Soldis are not yet available, the NGO said that last year some 5,900 people used the facility.

Tiivola said that the city's decision has effectively restricted access to drug and mental health services.

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