Housing First for Beginners

According to the Housing First principle, the best way to help people is to facilitate everyone a safe place to stay, whatever problems they have, together with professionals who can help and with whom they can seek support. International volunteer Inês Oliveira looks back at the history of the Housing First.

Housing First is a concept that has been developed since the 50’s. Due to its short longevity, this concept is still unknown to many societies, but also misunderstood by others. With this small post I’d like to share with our readers the basic ideas of Housing First, a concept that has been revolutionizing the idea of homelessness. Especially in Finland, there are many good examples that can be followed.

Before the Housing First policy

Before explaining the concept and all its main ideas, it is important to understand what we had previously to it. The first solution that many governments found to fight homelessness is the idea of shelters. Places where people without residences could come and spend the night. These people may have very different backgrounds, drugs and alcohol issues, mental healthiness or other problems, and because of that it is impossible for them to have a stable job to pay rent and other basic necessities.

The shelters have several big problems: they are categorized as temporary accommodation, officially just for 1 night; In many shelters there isn’t any type of logistic or personal support to the customers; and shelters aren´t open for those who are under influence of any substance, and as a consequence many will spend nights on the streets.

Shelters aren´t the final solution

The idea of someone living in a shelter is very degrading for the human being itself, that’s the reason why this solution was proven incorrect. It does not resolve any problem, it just postpones them, and eventually, creates even bigger problems.

It is true that even Finland thought shelters were the solution for homelessness, but when the government, municipalities and the society itself started to understand that they were spending more and more resources without solving the problem, an innovative idea popped up: Housing First.

Housing First can be described as a principle, a social policy, “an operating model, an ideology and a way of thinking”. And this way of thinking says that having a house, or a place to call home, is a human right. When someone has a place to call home, they also have a place where they can be in peace and feel safe. That’s the best way to have a stable re-start of life.

This concept had been in constant mutation: when the concept of Housing First started during the 50’s and 60’s in Finland, it had very different measures. The first step was making more affordable housing for people and families. After it was given some economical support by the state. But a big part of the homeless population stayed outside these measures, because housing was given just for the people with no alcohol or drugs issues.

Fortunately, society understood that the best way to help people was to facilitate everyone a safe place to stay, whatever problems they have, together with professionals who could help and with whom they could seek support. With these tools, everyone should have a strong basis to solve their problems.

In a nutshell, the four main principles of Housing First are:

  1. Housing enables independent lives
  2. Respect of choice
  3. Rehabilitation and empowerment of the resident
  4. Integration into the community and society

From then until our present 2020 many things changed. Housing First concept had been always in constant evolution and transition, and it challenged the idea that society had of homelessness. It shows that it is important everyone is included in the process: the state, municipalities, the service providers, employees and the residents.

After Housing First?

This brings us to the last part of this post: what comes next? It is known that renting a house is not enough. That’s why the next step is giving the right support: individual, special and specific to each case. This support can be done in different areas and in different ways: technical, administrative, health, social support, but also a neighborhood work that promotes support. This is the only way of true reintegration in society.

The history of homelessness does not need to be so negative anymore. More and more the forgotten part of society has new tools to be included and to be reintegrated. This post was based on the book A Home of Your Own, Housing First and ending homelessness in Finland, by Y-Foundation, available here. For those interested on knowing more about the project and its evolution in Finland, the pdf version of the book is available for download. There you can read also some stories of people whom, due to housing first principle, got a second chance in life, but also the process of evolution of some housing units in Helsinki area. It’s definitely a wonderful start for those who want to learn more about the Housing First principal.

Volunteer in Sininauhasäätiö
Inês Oliveira