No homeless on the streets of Helsinki

The city with no homeless on its streets

Mat Trewern reporting for The BBC:

The number of people sleeping rough in the UK has multiplied since 2010. But in Finland's capital Helsinki rough sleeping has been almost eradicated thanks to a groundbreaking scheme. What can cities in the UK learn from the Finns?

Emerging from Helsinki's grandiose central railway station on a bitterly cold evening, it does not take long before you notice something unusual.

There are no rough sleepers and no-one is begging.

The contrast with the UK's major towns and cities - where rough sleepers curled up in sleeping bags, blankets or tents are a common sight - is striking.

"In my childhood I remember there were hundreds, or even thousands of people sleeping in the parks and forests," says Helsinki's deputy mayor Sanna Vesikansa.

"It was visible, but we don't have it any more. Street homelessness doesn't exist in Helsinki."

We have to help people without judging them. They have become homeless for a reason. Very few would want to be homeless intentionally. Can you imagine what it's like to be outside when it's freezing?

So how have the Finns managed it?
Since 2007, their government has built homeless policies on the foundations of the "Housing First" principle.

Put simply, it gives rough sleepers or people who become homeless a stable and permanent home of their own as soon as possible.

It then provides them with the help and support they need. That may be supporting someone trying to tackle an addiction, assisting them to learn new skills, or helping them get into training, education or work.

The British government could learn a thing or two from Finland. I see homeless so much in Leicester and this must be occuring right across the UK and other countries. So much money and time is spent on the wrong things—nuclear weapons is a good example. We need to have this across the UK. Spend money where it matters.

Housing First's success has caught the attention of the UK government, which last year agreed to pay for pilot schemes in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands.

There are already several small scale trials being carried out in Wales, some run by The Salvation Army, others by local authorities. Those behind the schemes say the results so far have been positive.

Trials in England are due to start shortly and will be aimed at helping the most entrenched rough sleepers.

We should not see it as a financial burden. The Finnish don't and for good reason.

Back in Helsinki, deputy mayor Ms Vesikana believes tackling homelessness and ending rough sleeping is not only a moral obligation but may also save money in the long-run.

"We know already that it pays back because we have expenses elsewhere if people are homeless. They have more severe health problems which are then taken to emergency care and hospital."

"Homelessness and rough sleeping is something we just can't have in our cities, people dying on the streets. It's not the type of society or city we want to live in."