“Housing first” is the most effective way of tackling homelessness. But Finland, Denmark and Ireland show that government resolve is crucial.
As the Covid-19 pandemic set in, state and territory governments around Australia rapidly found crisis accommodation — usually in hotels — for around 7000 people who were sleeping rough. But the impressive speed and resolve raised a difficult question: what happens next?
The federal government has a unique opportunity to begin reshaping Australia’s housing landscape in the October budget.
We know from Finland that homelessness can be eliminated, or at least reduced to “functional zero” — that is, with homelessness as a “rare, short-lived and non-recurrent” phenomenon. The Finnish model can’t be transplanted directly into an Australia context, but it points the way forward. Substantial progress in reducing homelessness here must involve a long-term commitment to increasing the supply of affordable dwellings, and a coordinated approach linking different levels of government that is not contingent on electoral outcomes for its longevity.
There are many paths into homelessness but only one way out. Domestic abuse, relationship break up, poverty, unemployment, illness, injury, addiction, eviction — any one or more of these things might force an individual or a family out of their home. But the only route out of homelessness is secure, affordable, decent housing. It is this simple premise that makes the housing first approach so compelling.
In Homelessness Week 2020 Lead Moderator Peter Mares looks at an illuminating new study, Ending Homelessness?, in which researchers Mike Allen, Lars Benjaminsen, Eoin O’Sullivan and Nicholas Pleace contrast Finland with two other European countries of comparable size — Ireland and Denmark — to investigate why broadly similar approaches to homelessness over more than a decade have produced very different results: considerable success in Finland, marginal progress in Denmark and failure in Ireland. What are the lessons Australia can learn from these experiences?