As already set out in an earlier instalment, Article 19.4 of the Finnish Constitution establishes housing as a basic human right in. Finland bases its resultant strategy on four guiding principles to eliminate homelessness:
The homeless can go straight to living in a rental apartment without temporary arrangements. Health and social problems are only addressed once housing is permanent and safe. For some, the best model is an ordinary rental apartment. And, others need to live in a housing unit where there is support around the clock, seven days a week.
The homeless are clients. As clients, they can choose services. The substance dependent do not need to give up intoxicants. The goal is to reduce use and harm and to work toward elimination. Services are structured to respect the autonomy of the client and strengthen participation.
In all interactions, clients are treated as equals, with dignity and respect. The objective is a trust based relationship that allows clients to manage their individual situations on their own terms. This requires stripping advisors and counsellors of “power” and adopting new approaches to find appropriate long term solutions to client issues. Even the smallest of everyday achievements is celebrated.
Residents get help to make their new dwelling a home. Clients get a lease – just this creates a feeling of permanence. Clients get help maintaining or re-establishing supportive networks such as with family and friends. Housing First has established a systematic approach to neighbourhood connection. This development of a strong sense of community helps residents realize that they are part of something important and empowering.
These three elements have to be in harmony because:
Implicit in the above is that all stakeholders in the effort to eliminate homelessness, work together. This includes all levels of government, social services, housing authorities, and the agencies engaged in serving the homeless.
Housing First is embraced by numerous jurisdictions but they fall short when asked to set policies that imbed Housing as a Human Right which then, as in Finland’s case, requires that social housing be funded, built and maintained. Instead, in Ontario, we have the More Homes Built Faster Act which will achieve neither and especially will not reduce homelessness by one individual.Victor Willis, Executive Director, The Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, Toronto
Finland’s steadfast application of its Housing First policy demonstrates that eliminating homelessness of the vulnerable is possible.
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