How Finland put housing first

Earlier this year, official figures showed that rough sleeping in England had risen for the sixth successive year.

The data showed that 4,134 people slept on the street in 2016, an increase of 16% on the previous year’s figure of 3,569, and more than double the 2010 figure. Many of those enduring long-term homelessness have complex and multiple needs related to mental health or addiction. While this is a growing problem in the UK, housing exclusion is by no means confined to these shores. As we reported in April, there is growing evidence of an alarming increase in homelessness across Europe.

But one European country is bucking this trend. Since 2008, the Finnish government has been working with housing agencies to reduce long term homelessness and improve prevention services. The adopted approach, called ‘Housing First’, has had a big impact, achieving a 35% fall in long term homelessness over seven years. Finland is now the only country in the European Union where homelessness continues to fall.

Housing First: what it means

Housing First is not a uniquely Finnish approach to tackling homelessness, nor is it a new idea. The practice began in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It’s based on the principle that housing is a basic human right, and turns on its head the notion that vulnerable people are only ‘housing ready’ once they have begun to engage with support services.

As the name suggests, Housing First means providing vulnerable people with permanent, affordable housing, and then offering specialised support to ensure that they don’t return to sleeping on the streets. However, acceptance of that support is not a condition for access to housing. The approach has been adopted in various American cities, as well as parts of Australia, Canada, France and Japan. But it’s in Finland that Housing First has achieved some of its most impressive results.

Housing First: how it works

One of the key players in Finland’s Housing First strategy is the Y-Foundation, an association of local authorities, church, construction, trade union and health organisations that has been supporting homeless people for more than thirty years. Starting in 2008, the foundation converted homeless shelters in Finland’s biggest cities into rental housing. At the same time, the government set targets for local authorities to build new flats in mixed housing developments. The programme is backed by money from government grants and the proceeds from Finland’s not-for-profit gambling monopoly.

Housing First: why it works

The cost estimate for Finland’s Housing First programme is €78 million. But Juha Kaakinen, chief executive of the Y-Foundation, has no doubts about its value for money. In an interview with Inside Housing, he explained:

“It’s not only good social policy; it has a big safety and security angle, as the more homeless people there are on the streets, the more unsafe the city is. And there’s an economic argument, too: taking care of these people is a good investment.”

He estimates that taking each homeless person off the streets saves social, health and emergency services around €15,000 a year.

Housing First in the UK

Homelessness charities in Britain have been taking great interest in the success of Housing First in Finland.

“It’s a stunning result,” Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, told Inside Housing.  “They used to have a bigger homelessness problem than we have.” But he was less sure whether the programme could be replicated here. “We’ve got a system that is the exact opposite of Housing First. In Finland they made a strategic choice; that allowed them to change everything.”

Even so, Housing First is already gaining ground around the UK:

Scotland
A pilot project in Glasgow by Turning Point Scotland was the first Housing First project to be implemented in the UK. Between 2011 and 2013, the project provided mainstream social housing and 24/7 floating support to 22 individuals who were homeless, aged 18 or over, and involved in substance misuse. An evaluation of the project by Heriot Watt University found that none of the tenants were evicted from their flat and the majority of participants retained their tenancies.

Wales
The Welsh Government has announced that it is considering moves towards a Housing First policy. The communities and children secretary for Wales told the Welsh Assembly in April 2017 that he would be reviewing homelessness prevention in Wales, and is exploring Housing First initiatives.

Northern Ireland
Working with the Depaul youth homelessness charity, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive funded a Housing First pilot scheme in Belfast. An evaluation of the 18-month programme reported a number of positive results, including a high rate of tenancy retention, improvements in participants’ self-care, confidence and living skills, and reductions in their dependence on drugs and alcohol. A further Housing First programme has since been established in Derry.

England
In 2015, the University of York published findings from a study of nine Housing First services in England. The authors reported high levels of success in reducing long-term and repeated homelessness, with 74% of service users successfully housed for one year or more. There were also significant improvements in the physical and mental health of Housing First tenants and high levels of satisfaction. The Centre for Social Justice has called on the UK government to set up a £110m national Housing First programme, arguing that the investment would save money and lives.

Final thoughts

There is no quick fix to the problem of homelessness, but Finland has shown that adopting new ways of thinking about the problem can virtually eradicate rough sleeping. As Juha Kaakinen observes:

“Housing First means ending homelessness instead of managing it.”



Further reading on homelessness:

Supercommuting: is it worth it?

crowd rush on the london tube

By Rebecca Jackson

In recent years there has been a surge in the number of people in the UK being classed as ‘supercommuters’ – people who travel more than 90 minutes to work each day. And figures from the TUC published last week suggest that over 3 million of us now have long daily commutes of two hours or more, a rise of 72% in the last decade.

Rising rent, the London-centric nature of the British economy and the desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance have all been cited as factors which have contributed to this mass commute which millions of us, myself included, go through every day.

Reliance on commuting for ‘better job’ opportunities

In a recent survey it was found that accountants have the longest average commute, at 75 minutes, with IT software developers next at 65 minutes. The shortest average commute belongs to those who work in the retail and leisure industries, who have commute times of between 20-30 minutes respectively.

A recent IPPR report suggested that commuting, or more specifically the lack of ability to commute, was resulting in many job-seekers remaining out of work. As a result, a reliance on commuting for ‘better jobs’ was limiting the growth of the British economy, particularly in areas outside of London.

Commuting, and the resulting inflexibility this gives many jobs, can also be a barrier to many women, particularly those with families or caring responsibilities, taking on roles which are higher paid or higher up the ‘corporate ladder’, including more senior roles in company structures and professions such as accountancy and law.

The costs of supercommuting

So how realistic is a ‘supercommute’ in terms of cost, and in terms of family life and commitments … and is it worth it?

I calculated the cost and time it would take to commute to London from 4 cities: Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and Barcelona (I chose Barcelona because I know someone who did it for a year!).

The scenario I used was for an individual who works full time in an office in the City of London, within walking distance of Liverpool Street Station. All prices shown are averages and will fluctuate depending on proximity to amenities, time of booking transport etc. This information also does not take into account the cost of living more generally, food, utilities, socialising etc.

Untitled 2*Average time, without excessive traffic or delays, for flights includes check in and transfer to Liverpool Street
** Northern Irish “Rates” are slightly different to council tax
*** For a 1 month Zone 1-6 Oyster card OR to fly from MAN; EDI; BFS; BCN to STN and get the Express to Liverpool Street, 3 days per week, returning each night.

The figures seem to show that cost wise, it’s true, supercommutes can save you money if travelling means that you can take a higher wage or better job.

Work-life balance

People who supercommute, while grateful for the better lifestyle it gives them and their families on days off, often highlight how long commutes, which often mean significantly longer working days, impact on their relationships, their health and require significantly more commitment and energy from them as individuals than a ‘normal 9-5 job’ would. An individual’s personal well-being can often be hugely affected by extreme commuting times.

Statistics have also shown that people who supercommute, who have a wife or partner who doesn’t commute with them, or doesn’t undertake a similar length of commute of their own, have a higher rate of divorce and/or separation. And those with children reported stressed and difficult relationships with them too.

Studies have also shown that its not all about the money, and that to equate monetary value to distance commuted, you would need to be offered a pay rise of 40% to compensate for the detriment caused in other areas of life by an extra hour’s commute.

Another factor influencing how realistic supercommuting is as an option for employees, is the willingness of the company, and the ability of the job, to be flexible. Many people who are interviewed, or used as successful case examples of supercomputing, work in jobs where they can work remotely for part or all of the time.

And as you can see in my example above, it is based on the understanding that those commuting from outside London are only doing so on a 3 day week basis, with a view that they would work remotely from home on the other two days. Not all jobs can facilitate this, and neither can all employees.

Is it worth it?

Supercommuting can, therefore, be a way to save money, and offer improved quality of life, enabling people to live closer to family or in the countryside. However it comes at a potential cost to social life and relationships, and to personal well-being in terms of physical and mental health.

Sadly it’s not all afternoon strolls or sangria weekends on a beach in Barcelona, although this can be part of it. It takes commitment to the job and the commute itself and a regular reassessment of the question of “is it actually worth it?”

And, unfortunately for many, supercommuting is no longer a choice, but a situation forced on workers by the state of the housing or employment markets.


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Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Donna Gardiner’s post on remote working