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Housing First Policy: Finland

Finland's “Housing First” Policy successfully tackles long-term homelessness (2008–ongoing)

April 16, 2024
Author: Laura Maria Rojas Morales

In 2008, the Finnish government introduced the Housing First policy, aimed at eradicating long-term homelessness. This is a human rights-based strategy that provides housing and social services. Through partnerships between the state, cities, municipalities, and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the policy has gradually reduced the reliance on conventional short-term shelters, transforming them into affordable rented accommodation units. From 2008 to 2022, the number of individuals experiencing long-term homelessness in Finland decreased by 68 percent.

In 1987, when the government initially launched its efforts to address homelessness, there were 18,000 individuals experiencing homelessness.1 As of 2018, Finland had 5,482 homeless people, and over 60 percent resided in the metropolitan area of the capital Helsinki.2 The causes of long-term homelessness are complex and varied and the country’s cold climate and severe weather conditions creates an added risk for those living outside formal accommodation.3 Additionally, not having a permanent address also hinders access to employment opportunities and social benefits.4 People experiencing homelessness face vulnerable situations when residing in temporary shelters and often find themselves caught in an endless cycle of moving between temporary shelters without a permanent housing solution.5

Finland’s Housing First policy is a human rights-based strategy built upon four principles:

  1. Everyone is entitled to a settled place to live, regardless of circumstance, reversing traditional homeless aid approaches. Having stable living conditions makes it easier to look for a job and work on psychological and health problems. Homeless people can get an apartment without any preconditions. Being in a more secure position and having social worker support make it easier for them to find a job and take care of their physical and mental health.
  2. The framework respects choice and autonomy, allowing individuals to select treatments and services. Individuals are not required to solve social and health issues beforehand, like completely giving up alcohol or drug use.6 Moreover, support is tailored to the needs of the person, and this is made possible due to the high standards of public social services.
  3. Empowerment of residents and building trust with the staff.
  4. Support people’s integration into their community.7

Housing First solves long-term homelessness by gradually reducing and abandoning the use of conventional short-term shelters and converting them into affordable rented accommodation units.8

Program staff undertake periodic visits to tenants to direct them to necessary health and social services through government or non-governmental institutions. The program targets individuals who have been experiencing homelessness for over a year or with recurring episodes in the last three years. The policy prioritizes people currently living on the streets, in temporary shelters and hostels. It also targets people at risk of becoming homeless, such as young people, people undergoing rehabilitation, or homeless released prisoners.9

The eligible person will receive a tenancy agreement on a normal lease. Tenants are required to pay rent and operating costs.10 They are directed towards the appropriate unemployment, home care, and child benefit services provided by Finnish institutions (e.g., Social Insurance Institutions), and can apply each month for an additional housing allowance from the program if they are still not able to afford rent.11 Social workers, who operate within the residential buildings, provide ongoing assistance on social benefit applications and other financial issues.12


Since the 1980s, the Finnish government established programs intended to decrease homelessness. Previous strategies were focused on the “staircase” housing model, where individuals had to progress through various stages of temporary accommodation and requirements before attaining permanent housing. For example, recovering from alcohol and substance abuse was required to transition to permanent housing.13

The Finnish Constitution (731/1999) included the right to housing and provision of support and care for those unable to obtain the means necessary to live in dignified conditions. Then, in 2007, Jan Vapaavuori, the Housing Minister of Finland at the time, established a working group to address the persisting problem of long-term homelessness that previous approaches had failed to solve. The group’s report, titled “Name on the Door” (Nimi ovessa) recommended the Housing First approach. 

In 2008, the government launched the Housing First policy, which has been implemented through four programs: 

  • PAAVO I (2008–2011): The program to reduce long-term homelessness; 
  • PAAVO II (2012–15): The program to reduce long-term homelessness; 
  • AUNE (2016–19): The action plan for preventing homelessness in Finland; and 
  • (2020–22): The cooperation program to halve homelessness.14

The programmes have been developed and implemented through  partnerships between the state, cities, municipalities, the Y-Foundation and local NGOs.At the central government level, the 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), that directs  funding to third-sector organizations for projects and for buying apartments from the market and renting them to homeless people.15

The Y-Foundation, a non-profit landlord, is a key national developer of the policy. It  manages the Housing First Development Network in Finland and coordinates the Housing First Europe Hub.16 Y-Foundation rents homes for people experiencing homelessness and receives discounted loans from the state to buy properties to rent to people experiencing homelessness.17 

The programs have also been accompanied by research projects that have supported and evaluated the program  and produced evidence-based recommendations. 


The Finnish government provides funding for the program to the municipalities, who can spend the funds themselves or partner with other organizations that provide social services.18 Between 2008 and 2019, the Government had spent over EUR 270 Million (approximately USD 293 million).19 Costs are shared between the central government and municipalities. Apartments bought on the private market are funded through the Finnish Lottery.20


The housing first policy in Finland has successfully reduced homelessness. Between 2008 and 2022 the total number of people experiencing long-term homelessness decreased by 68 percent.21 Research has shown that on average 80 percent of homeless people have accessed housing through the programme.22 In 2008, there were nearly 600 beds in shelters and hostels in Helsinki, but in 2019, there was only one permanent service center for emergency accommodation, providing 52 beds.23 4,600 homes have been provided in ten years, and by 2017, there was enough shelter for all members of the population to sleep indoors.

Housing First programmes have been integrated into the major administrative bodies from the central government down to the municipalities. It has also gained wide political support—with barely any opposition from any administration following the first iteration of the program.24

A cost-effectiveness evaluation of homelessness eradication carried out in 2011 by Tampere University of Technology estimated that providing housing and support for one homeless person will save the society at least EUR 15 000 to EUR 52,000 (approximately USD 16,000 to 56,000 USD) per person, per year due to the prevention of evictions and by tenants requiring less healthcare and social assistance.25

One of the remaining challenges is providing housing for immigrants, as they face language barriers and lack of knowledge about their rights. Furthermore, studies show that the program will have to adapt to the changing face of homelessness, which at the beginning of the program was mostly related to alcohol consumption, but is now more closely tied to broader marginalization and exclusion from other public services in Finland, and is affecting younger people at a higher rate than before.26 

The current government has committed to completely eradicating homelessness by 2027 through measures both targeted at the homeless population and preventative programs.27 In the capital of Helsinki, homelessness is to be eradicated by 2025. This stands in sharp contrast to the rest of Europe, where the number of people lacking stable housing has surged dramatically.28

View of old Porvoo, Finland. ©Adobe Stock/Elena Noeva