The Metro in Helsingin päärautatieasema (Helsinki Central Railway Station) is accessed via an underpass system and underground shopping centre that form a maze of pedestrian tunnels. In any other country in Europe, this would be a prime spot for rough sleepers and street beggars. But Finland has reduced its rough sleeping population to close to zero – by housing them.
In 1987, Helsinki had a population of 800,000 – of whom around 18,000 were homeless. Over the last three decades, progressive policies have reduced the homeless figure to around 6000 while the population of the greater urban area of Helsinki has increased to over a million. Rough sleeping has been practically eliminated by the Finnish government’s Housing First policy.
The guiding principle of the Housing First initiative is an unconditional offer of a home. A rough sleeper is given an offer of housing, paid for by state benefits, without the stipulations about behaviour change that are common in other such schemes. Drug addicts and heavy drinkers will not lose their housing offer if they are unable to change their habits – but they are assigned a support worker to help them work through these issues.
Having solved the problem of rough sleeping, the Finnish government is not resting on its laurels regarding the remaining homeless population – most of whom are staying with friends and family or in temporary shelters. The next phase of the government’s plan involves tackling the causes of homelessness by increasing the availability of affordable rented housing. There are also initiatives aimed at improving integration of the homeless population with local communities.
Our approach to solving the problems of poverty and homelessness definitely takes a leaf out of the Housing First manual. We believe the UK government has much to learn from their Finnish equivalents and is far too slow to move in introducing radical solutions to homelessness. We aim to shake things up by applying the efficiencies of the private sector to the problem. In phase one, we’ll be raising money through our suite of apps and providing employment for homeless people selling in-app advertising space. In phase two, we’ll be providing micro-dwellings that can be used as unconditional housing for rough sleepers.
If you would like to know more about the Kanndoo project, please get in touch. If you want to help us, a good start would be to download one of our apps. They are fun, useful, and the proceeds go to helping those in need.