From Local to Global seminar: social changes needed to end homelessness  

  • 4.6.2024
  • News
  • Ending homelessness, From Local to Global, Homelessness, Homelessness work, Housing First, Housing first in Finland

From Local to Global homelessness seminar brought together top experts from around the world to the Central Library of Helsinki, Oodi, to hear and discuss the challenges of ending homelessness. The day’s presentations echoed a shared understanding of homelessness as a social phenomenon: ending homelessness requires structural and systemic changes.   

Teija Ojankoski, CEO of the Y-Foundation, opened the seminar at the Central Library Oodi in Helsinki. Ms Ojankoski stressed the importance of cooperation in the fight against homelessness, both in national and international contexts.  

Lydia Stazen, Director of the Institute of Global Homelessness, said she wanted to bring the Institute’s network to Finland to learn about solutions that have reduced homelessness here in an internationally exceptional way. The Institute of Global Homelessness works globally with the aim of advancing the fight against homelessness based on evidence and good practice.  

Statzen presented the results of an international survey on recommended ways to end homelessness and encouraged the audience to adopt solutions that have been proven to work. 

Juha Kahila, Head of International Affairs at the Y-Foundation, spoke about impact, the importance of action and doing and the downside of striving for perfection: 

“We know that the core of the Housing First model is its simplicity: first provide housing and then the necessary support. We must resist the temptation to over-complicate this model, turning it into a ‘golden cage’, beautiful but limited. Instead, let’s keep it practical, easy to use and scalable so that it can really help everyone in need.” 

Ending homelessness by changing structures – not individuals 

The seminar was attended by an audience from 16 different countries and the day’s speakers represented 5 continents. Daniel Sazonov, Deputy Mayor of Helsinki and Chairman of the Steering Group of Finland’s Programme to End Long-term Homelessness, and former Minister of Housing Jan Vapaavuori presented the recent history and objectives of Finland’s homelessness work to an international audience. 

Sazonov presented Helsinki’s efforts and results to end homelessness in the city by 2025. The work done in Helsinki is based on the Housing First model, but other structures that secure housing and preventive elements such as housing counselling and the city’s own rental housing production are also needed. Sazonov recommended to other cities around the world to take a system-level approach when designing measures to end homelessness.  

The introduction and mainstreaming of the Finnish Housing First model through national homelessness programmes was presented by former Housing Minister Jan Vapaavuori. Vapaavuori identified 6 reasons why Finland has been exceptionally successful in ending homelessness: prioritisation of the issue, a holistic and systematic approach to tackling the issue, a housing first model that is people-centred and puts the human being first, a multi-faceted argumentation for action, a commitment to cooperation by all key actors and the ability of operational leadership to implement agreed measures. 

Professor Cameron Parsell from Australia gave the keynote speech at the seminar. In his speech, Parsell summarised the observations raised by previous speakers. Parsell stressed that homelessness is embedded in the fabric of society and system change is needed to end homelessness.  

He encouraged the audience to reflect on what kind of action helps people experiencing homelessness and what kind of action helps to end homelessness. Parsell underlined that without housing, homelessness will not be eradicated: Not only is housing a solution for homelessness, but it is also a home. 

“When we change our systems – we can end homelessness, rather than changing people”, says Cameron Parsell.

Local perspectives, global challenge 

Andrew Boozary, MD, Toronto, spoke about the impact of homelessness and the links to health and healthcare. Housing conditions and homelessness have a significant impact on human health: 

“Homelessness robs people of half their life expectancy”.  

Boozary described how Toronto’s health system has responded to the city’s growing homelessness problem. There is a dedicated Stabilization & Connection Centre for the homeless, where people experiencing homelessness can receive services that meet their needs, rather than waiting and being overburdened in a general outpatient clinic.  

The hospital is building a housing unit of 51 studio flats on its site so that doctors can prescribe accommodation for their patients – in the same way that medicines or treatments are prescribed.   

In the final presentation of the seminar, Fernanda Auersperg and Gabriel Cunha from the Uruguayan Ministry of Social Development presented the country’s efforts to reduce homelessness. Homelessness has increased in the country over the last ten years, and the country has developed policies to combat homelessness.  

Auersperg and Cunha stressed the importance of cooperation: international cooperation with the Institute of Global Homelessness has played an important role at national level, and through homelessness programmes cooperation between different actors in Uruguay has deepened. 

The seminar concluded with a panel discussion on homelessness at local and international level, in line with the theme of the day. The panel was chaired by Baroness Louise Casey, Chair of the Institute of Global Homelessness, and in addition to the speakers from earlier in the day, panelists included Carlos Bezerra Junior from Brazil and Undral Bold from Mongolia. 

Y-Säätiö thanks the event participants and partners for a great day and for their work in promoting an important cause.