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How Finland fixes homelessness by giving people homes

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Can the country’s housing-first model work in the U.S.?

Finland’s approach to addressing homelessness is simple: give people a stable home first, then address the issues that put them at risk for homelessness in the first place, like treating drug addiction or providing job training. The numbers also suggest that it works—a recent report found that long-term homelessness has significantly declined in Finland since 2008, making it the only European country where homelessness is actually decreasing.

So why aren’t more countries adopting the Finnish model? Well, it’s tricky. Housing-first only works in places where there’re apartments and homes available, and at a price the government can afford. Countries like the United States and Great Britain are in the midst of a housing crisis, where supply is insufficient to meet demand. Trying a housing-first model in a high-cost urban center like New York City would be extremely difficult financially.

Finland also invested significant financial resources to convert existing homeless shelters into apartments for permanent supportive housing. This was enacted as part of a comprehensive policy.

Other countries are less likely to shell out cash for such a large overarching plan in favor of smaller individual projects that work within existing housing infrastructure. But as Juha Kaakinen argues in The Guardian, "building new housing is an economically wise and value-creating investment with positive side-effects ranging from reducing youth unemployment to boosting the local economy."