There is a vaccine against homelessness: It’s called affordable social housing

CanadianSME Small Business Magazine Small Business

An experienced and passionate developer of innovative housing solutions for homeless people and social housing.

Juha Kaakinen is Chief Executive of Y-Foundation, the biggest Finnish NGO providing housing for homeless people and social housing with a housing stock of 18 000 flats.

Before, he has worked in public administration of the City of Helsinki and as a CEO of Social Development Ltd, a company devoted to developing social and health services for cities and municipalities. He has also worked as a program leader of a national program to end long-term homelessness, and as a researcher and a consultant. He is internationally known as an advocate of the Housing First policy.


You are running the largest Finnish NGO providing housing for homeless people. Can you please discuss how housing is a basic human and social right?

Housing as a basic human and social right has a strong ethical justification and is expressed for ex. in the Human Rights Declaration of the UN. Housing as a basic human and social right is about treating people equally and with dignity. Decent housing, a home, is the foundation for living and participating in social life and work. It is not enough to have housing as a right expressed in legislation, it needs concrete action and in the case of homelessness, it means providing people unconditionally a safe affordable apartment to start with.


What are your thoughts on the current homeless situation in Toronto?

Based on what I have read and heard from local experts the situation is catastrophic and requires urgent action. In my understanding, the level of street homelessness shows that homeless people themselves don’t regard shelters and other temporary accommodations as a solution to their situation. The current homelessness situation seems to be also directly related to a serious lack of affordable housing.

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How Housing First is one of the world’s best approaches to ending homelessness?

Housing First is this century’s solution to homelessness. There is very consistent scientific evidence that Housing First is the most sustainable and even cost-effective solution to homelessness, especially to long-term, chronic homelessness. Housing First is based on simple principles that respect the dignity of homeless people: providing unconditionally permanent housing and support in normal surroundings, not shelters. In Finland, Housing First has been implemented as a systemic model, as a national policy. As Housing First is based on permanent housing therefore there is now only a small amount of emergency accommodation needed.

On any given day, more than 8,700 people in Toronto are experiencing homelessness, many more are experiencing “hidden homelessness”, and thousands of others are on the waitlist for supportive housing. What are some of your thoughts about resolving homelessness in Toronto?

Only a policy and an implementation based on a long-term plan based on Housing First can solve homelessness for good. Increasing shelters beds is not a solution as people in shelters are still homeless. But to change the system requires political will and decisions and a wide collaboration between the city, province, and NGOs. And it requires a very concrete plan on how to get the housing needed and how to provide the support people may need. It is not a question of money as managing homelessness with shelters and temporary solutions cost more than providing permanent housing.


How can we help people transition back into society after experiencing extended periods of isolation and previous trauma?

The longer one is homeless the greater is the risk of serious health and social issues like mental health problems and substance abuse. For this reason, it is important to focus on prevention and rapid rehousing.  Housing First doesn’t solve all issues at once, but it creates a foundation that makes it possible to succeed.  In many cases simply providing a safe environment with permanent housing seems to stabilize things.

Small Business Canada

Although it is mainly a question of basic needs also professional support and rehabilitation may be needed. In our experience offering even temporary job opportunities can be the best possible support for somebody who has moved into his/her own apartment.

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