Finland is the only country in the European Union where the number of homeless people has declined in recent years. This is mainly thanks to a carefully planned, comprehensive cooperation strategy we call ’Housing First’, which is a model bringing together NGOs working to reduce homelessness, the Y-Foundation, municipalities and cities, and the central government.

Traditionally, housing has been seen as the final goal of a social-recovery process. Housing First shifts this paradigm and puts housing at the top of the list, that is, as the first step in helping homeless people to get back on their feet. Repeated homelessness can be prevented more effectively when we recognise the paths that lead to it in time. The goal is to secure housing as soon as possible after the client begins using the service.

Finland has been implementing modern homelessness policies ever since the 1980s. From 2008 onwards, with the adoption of the Housing First principles, we have experienced a real breakthrough because of early intervention in preventing long-term homelessness.

The number of long-term homeless people in Finland (2008–2015) has decreased by 1,345 persons (35%). In 2016, overall homelessness decreased for the first time to fewer than 7,000 people.

3 principles

  1. We have an ethical duty to provide a decent standard of living and environment for homeless people.
  2. Both national legislation and international agreements require Finnish public authorities to address the problem of homelessness.
  3. Reducing homelessness is an economically rational endeavour, because it reduces health care and social welfare costs.

Practical solutions

Name on the door

  • A basic human need for privacy, a place of your own, a home.
  • A rental contract of your own (not a second-hand contract or temporary social contract).

Permanent housing allows other problems to be solved

  • Abstaining from drinking is not a requirement for permanent housing.

Separation of housing and services

  • Individually tailored services based on an assessment of needs.

Solutions to homelessness cannot be temporary

Conventional shelters and dormitory-type hostels are no longer adequate responses to homelessness

  • Hostels will be converted into supported housing units.


Clear responsibilities on the level of the central government (Ministry of the Environment is the lead coordinator, in collaboration with the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA) and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA) has directed funding to third-sector organisations for projects and for buying apartments from the market and renting them to homeless people.)

During 2008–2019 State authorities and the ten largest Finnish cities concludeddetailed agreements for concrete projects, such as site development, recruiting and training new staff, allocation of flats, commissioning and organising provision of services.

A cross-governmental and cross-sectoral operation network has helped to identify and address the multiple and distinctive needs of the long-term homeless.

Cooperation Programme to Halve Homelessness 2020–2022

  • The key objective is to strengthen the homelessness work of local authorities
  • through the use and development of social services by allocating more affordable housing for people at risk of homelessness.
  • Municipalities set up cooperation networks at local level.
  • Homelessness work will be established as part of the core activities of municipalities.

Further reading

More information