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In from the cold: international ideas for dealing with homelessness

Utah has a very simple idea – give homeless people homes.

homeless ireland logo

THERE ARE AS many as 100 million people homeless in the world. In Europe alone, there’s an estimated 4.1 million.

Despite these colossal numbers, there is no cohesive approach in tackling the issue. In developing countries, with a lack of services, funding, and housing, it’s extremely difficult to get a handle on it.

In other areas, thousands have been made homeless by war or natural disaster.

In Haiti, there are still up to 170,000 still homeless after the 2010 earthquake, living in “dire conditions”.

However, in some developed countries, authorities can control the situation, and while homelessness is still a long way off from being eradicated, some policies are working.

We took a look at some places abroad to see what the situation was there, and some ways they are tackling the issue:

FINLAND

Homelessness across Finland has fallen dramatically over the past three decades. Figures from the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) suggest that as many as 20,000 people were homeless in 2008, down to just 8,000 in 2012.

The government’s key strategy in this is a ‘Housing First’ approach. Instead of relying on hostels, dormitories, and shelters, they converted them into supported housing.

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“In Helsinki, the last big shelter was closed in 2012 and it has been converted into a supported housing unit,” a FEANTSA report read.

Like Ireland, there is an aim to end homelessness - however, they have just four months left to meet their target.

While homelessness is is falling across the country, an estimate for 2012 points towards homelessness increasing due to rising numbers in the nation’s capital Helsinki.

In 2012, out of a population of 603,854, there were 1,100 people homeless in the city, over a quarter of which were under 25.

UTAH, UNITED STATES

The strategies implemented in Utah have proven to be extremely effective. A recent report detailing the success of the state’s Ten Year Plan placed the number of ‘chronically homeless persons’ at 1,932 in 2005. This has fallen 74%, and stood at 495 last year.

Some local shelters might even be able to close.

How did Utah manage that? Simple – by giving homes to people who were homeless.

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Previously, receiving a home in this manner would have had several requirements, such as participation in rehabilitation programmes or job training, the Huffington Post reports. Under this new programme, these services are offered to those who are given an apartment, but if they don’t stick by it, the state backs off.

However, they must take good care of the property and not cause any hassle in their neighbourhood.

It has ultimately proved more cost-effective than leaving people out on the streets – $16,670 in hospital visits and spells in prison, compared to $11,000 for the apartment and a social worker, according to Nation of Change.

That isn’t to say the problem hasn’t completely dissipated. The number of homeless school children (those living in a some form of temporary accommodation, rather than sleeping rough), has risen slightly and stood at 12,383 last year, following a massive spike in 2009.

ATHENS, GREECE

Austerity budgets in Greece led to an “unprecedented” surge in the number of people homeless, the Guardian reports, a portion of which were the “new homeless” – middle-class people who were thrown into homelessness.

“The homeless service provider Klimaka reports that, in the past, most of its clients were single homeless people and a majority had addiction problems and/or mental health issues,” a FEANTSA report read.

Now, they face overwhelming demand from the “new” homeless, who are characterised by higher levels of qualifications and work experience and who do not present complex needs beyond not being able to meet housing costs.

Greece Financial Crisis homeless people outside Monastiraki metro station in Athens. Source: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

The Spiegel reports that while Athens always had an issue with homelessness, there can now be as many as 25,000 people out on the streets.

That figure could be much higher. The Orthodox Church was feeding 250,000 people a day in 2012.

Greece Financial Crisis People wait in line to receive food from the Greek Orthodox Church in 2011. Source: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

FEANTSA has also noted that Greece has a long way to go in terms of eliminating homelessness. A number of measures introduced in recent years can actually criminalise homelessness. The country has no integrated homelessness strategy, and while new local governance structures have been set up, they haven’t been fully implemented.

One measure introduced in 2011 did suspend evictions for a six-month period after someone was made redundant.

PARIS, FRANCE

France has a massive homeless population, numbering somewhere around 274,000, Reuters reported, with some 33,000 sleeping rough.

The official figure stood at 141,500 in 2011, up 50% from 2001, and half of which are foreign nationals.

However, the exact figure in Paris is unknown. According to The Economist, the last “meaningful estimate” was made in the mid-2000s, but there has been nothing since then. At the time, there was an estimated 12,000 people sleeping rough or in some kind of emergency accommodation, and are often extremely visible on the street.

France Europe Weather Homeless people sit on a sidewalk in Paris, February 2012. Source: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Some estimates also suggest that less than 10% of families in Parisian shelters are French. The majority (57%) are of African origin. Another growing issue is the number of Roma living in squats.

Reuters added that squatting is become a significant trend in Paris, rising from 3,000 in 2002 to 20,000 last year. Squatters cannot be evicted in winter.

In 2010, the number of families requesting accommodation surpassed the number of single people, according to FEANTSA.

Authorities are attempting to get to grips with the issue of homelessness in the city. As much as €200 million has been released to address unfit housing.

Nationally, the social services are looking at how to target those most vulnerable - refugees, young people and people with mental health problems – and also but “humanising” shelters.

However, in terms of a housing-led approach, there are issues surrounding the supply of housing stock and adapted housing, and it is difficult to link those in temporary shelters into housing solutions.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

Figures recorded between April and June this year estimated that there were 2,497 people sleeping rough in London, an increase of 23% from the same period the year previous.

Close to 1,300 of these people were sleeping rough for the first time.

Over the course of 2013, a total of 6,508 people were were seen rough sleeping by Broadway outreach workers, a small increase from the year previous.

Homeless stock Members of the public walk past a homeless man in central London, August 2014. Source: Laura Lean/PA Wire

When he was re-elected as London’s mayor in 2012, Boris Johnson pledged to engage in a new drive to end homelessness. All well and good, and something most political leaders would like to do, but he had already pledged when he was first elected to end homelessness by 2012.

An initiative called No Second Night Out was introduced, to ensure that no one spend more than one night sleeping rough.

However, VICE went on the streets to see first hand how the project was working out, and discovered that it could be creating more issues than it is fixing:

NSNO only offers to help rough sleepers the first time outreach workers meet them. If NSNO workers already know you to be homeless – if they know you’ve been sleeping rough for a couple of nights or, say, three years – they won’t help you again.

And let’s not forget the ‘homeless spikes’, an isolated issue but one that attracted international condemnation.

These metal pieces were installed outside a block of apartments in London, and were designed to stop homeless people sleeping outside. They were subsequently removed, presumably much to the delighted of Boris:

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Photos: This is what it’s like to be homeless in Silicon Valley >

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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