Although Finland has outperformed its European Union neighbours in reducing homelessness, the number of young people with no fixed abode continues to rise in the Helsinki region, NGOs say.
NGO No Fixed Abode said recently that youth homelessness in Helsinki has been rising over the past five years. Organisation head Jussi Lehtonen said that one reason for the trend is that more people are relocating from the rest of the country as well as further afield in Europe to settle in Helsinki.
"People are moving around all the time and people are coming from other parts of Finland, they are not from Helsinki. They easily end up on the streets although they should register as Helsinki residents," Lehtonen added.
Registering as a local resident is key to getting off the streets and into a residence. The Hietaniemi service centre will only accommodate Helsinki residents. On top of that, one emergency accommodation is only open to non-EU residents, while another serves itinerants from Europe.
Housing crunch a factor
Ville Savilampi of the Finnish Youth Housing Association NAL, told Yle News that as of December last year, the organisation had received some 5,000 applications from young people seeking housing in the capital region.
By contrast, the organisation said that it owns 1,500 flats in Helsinki and environs that it can offer to applicants. He said that the problem of youth homelessness in the capital area won’t improve in the years ahead until government and municipalities address the ongoing housing shortage.
"It’s caused by the price level of rental flats and the high demand for homes. Plus large numbers of young people have low incomes and that means it’s almost impossible to find affordable homes," Savilampi added.
Meanwhile Lehtonen said that under the current circumstances, people can end up shifting for themselves in freezing weather, as emergency accommodation is usually filled to capacity. He noted that people often spend longer than they should in emergency housing before being moved on to service homes, given the shortage of the latter. Furthermore, getting placed in one of the NGO's studio apartments requires people with drug and alcohol problems to dry out sufficiently.
The organisation's head said that in 2017 there were 800 homeless people under the age of 25 in Helsinki. He speculated that one reason for the trend could be changes to the education system that may be causing people to fall through the cracks at a younger age.
Time to eradicate homelessness
Finland’s push to tackle the homeless problem saw the production of new housing accelerate during the country’s 1990s recession. In spite of the trying economic times, officials managed to make inroads into the problem. Jukka Kaakinen of the "Homes First" (Asunto ensin) organisation said that the future of the programme will depend to a large extent on how many affordable rental homes the state-funded Housing Finance and Development Centre ARA will be able to construct.
Last spring the government decided that it would halve the number of homeless people in four years. Kaakinen said he hopes that the next administration that takes office will aim higher.
"Since we have reduced homelessness so much, why not then entirely eradicate this societal problem?"
He added that he hoped that Finland will become the first country in the world – or at least in Europe – with no homeless people.