Homelessness

Happiness

The number of homeless in Australia has increased by 9% in 2021, while "housing stress" increased by 24%. The most significan increases in homlessness occured in Tasmania and Melbourne's North West which showed an increase of 22%. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is yet to release exact numbers from the 2021 Census, so I will refrain from citing those for the moment. But five years ago, the 2016 Census showed 116,427 people across the country were without a safe, secure place to sleep at night. For a country like Australia this is simply immoral.

And it need not be this way. Several other countries in the world have basically solved homlessness by implementing strategies aimed at looking after each and every one of their citizens. Finland has all but eradicated rough sleeping and sustainably housed a significant number of long-term homeless people. Finland is the only country in Europe where the number of homeless people has declined in recent years. So how has the country done it? By giving homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless, rather than muddling along with various services that may eventually result in an offer of accommodation. It's called "Housing First" and means ending homelessness instead of managing it. The basic idea is to offer permanent housing and needs-based support for homeless people instead of temporary accommodation in hostels or in emergency shelters. Permanent housing means an independent rental flat with own rental contract.

In Housing First people do not have to earn their right to housing by proving their capability to manage their lives. Instead, they are provided with a stable home and individually tailored support. Since 2008 the national homelessness strategy in Finland has been based on the Housing First model, as a result of dedicated cooperation between the state, municipalities and NGOs. Investments have been made to provide affordable housing and shelters have been converted into supported housing units. New services and methods of help have been developed to match the multiple needs of individual tenants. Finland has all but eradicated rough sleeping and sustainably housed a significant number of long-term homeless people. Finland is the only country in Europe where the number of homeless people has declined in recent years.

The key things are affordable housing and support. Extra funding that the state has allocated for flats and services has been an incentive for the municipalities to implement Housing First. Tenants pay rent and are entitled to receive housing benefits. Depending on their income, they may contribute to the cost of the services. The rest is covered by the municipalities. They provide the support themselves or buy support from other service providers, mainly from the NGOs. Stable living conditions enable the use of mainstream services instead of using expensive emergency services. This will save money in a long term, thus becoming a worthwhile government investment. The Housing First model can be replicated even though housing conditions may vary from country to country. Providing permanent homes for the homeless should be a target instead of temporary solutions. There is no quick fix to all life situations but a solid base provides the foundations upon which to improve the welfare of the homeless. The first step in change is the change in attitudes.

And that requires a significant change in attitude by governments. In Finland, there was a strong political will to find new solutions for homelessness. Such strong political will is unfortuneately non-existant in Australia today. We can only hope and pray that this will change in years to come. But re-electing one of the political duopoly won't see that happen.

Geoff Mooney