“Housing First – one or many?” by Juha Kaakinen

Since 2008, the Housing First principle has been the cornerstone of Finnish strategy and policy to end homelessness. In Finland, Housing First is first and foremost a systemic model, which means that housing solutions and support services are organised according to this model. Housing First can refer to a way of thinking, a basic philosophy, a service model or a way of working.

The basic idea behind the Housing First model is simple and clear: homelessness will only be eliminated if housing is based on a permanent rental property with its own tenancy and the necessary support services if the tenant so wishes. Despite more than 10 years of implementation, we know that the ‘Housing First’ principle is not fully established in practice, that there are wide variations in implementation from place to place, and that there are worrying reports from some quarters that the model is being eroded.

We are also well aware that when it comes to eradicating homelessness, there is no going back to the way we used to think and do things. The strength of the Finnish Housing First model is that it is seen as a forward-looking, evolving and developing model, unlike the American Housing First model, where orthodox compliance is monitored and assessed by various loyalty scales.

Without going further into the differences between the Finnish and American models, it can be said that, although there is a lot of work to be done, especially in the practical implementation of the Housing First model, it has been gratifying to see that a large number of professionals believe in the model and are willing to find answers to the development needs that have been identified. An excellent example of this commitment and willingness to develop is Housing First 2.0, developed together with researchers from the University of Tampere. It offers a lot of ingredients for the Housing First model to eradicate homelessness in Finland.

The Housing First principle does not categorise

In recent years, different versions of the Housing First principle have emerged, especially in the international debate. Housing First for Youth, Housing First for Women, Housing First for Families have at least been discussed. The debate has seemed a little confusing and has raised the question: is there not one clear model?

As I understand it, this debate about the different target group-specific versions is primarily about the boundaries of the American Housing First model. The original New York Pathways model was specifically designed for long-term homeless people with mental health problems who needed a high level of services. It does not take much ingenuity to realise that the Housing First principle is perfectly suited to other groups and so other models have been built for those homeless people who do not fit within that original boundary.

It is difficult to see the added value of categorising the Housing First model by target group. This is not a problem in the Finnish Housing First model. By sticking to the principles of the Housing First model, permanent tenancy-based housing and the individualisation of the support needed, unnecessary categorisation is avoided. Housing and support needs are the only relevant issues, and Housing First provides a strong basis for providing them.

Juha Kaakinen, Homelessness Eradication Expert

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