Tuya’s collection of bongs occupies an entire bookshelf in her immaculate little flat, though she does not smoke marijuana—she just likes the way they look. Her weaknesses, alcohol and pills, landed her in a homeless shelter in Helsinki for three years. But since 2018 she has had an apartment of her own, thanks to a strategy called “housing first” with which Finland has all but eliminated homelessness.
Akbar has no such luck. Last month the Afghan migrant stood in the mud of a camp outside Paris, brushing his teeth at a hose that served as a communal shower. For two months Akbar had been living in a tent city of 3,500 Asian and African migrants, hoping to apply for refugee status.
Tuya and Akbar are at opposite ends of Europe’s growing homelessness problem. Finland is the only European country where the numbers are not rising. In other rich welfare states, escalating housing costs are pushing more people into homeless shelters. In countries with weak social services, many end up on the street. And everywhere, migrants with the wrong papers fall through the cracks.
Statistics on homelessness are patchy, but dispiriting. In 2010-18 the French government doubled the spaces in emergency accommodation to 146,000, yet cannot meet demand. In Spain the number in shelters rose by 20.5% between 2014 and 2016. In the Netherlands homelessness has doubled in the past decade. In Ireland, the number in shelters has tripled. The German government estimates homelessness rose by 4% in 2018 to a record 678,000, most of them migrants. All this has thrown a spanner into governments’ plans. For years, they have been trying to shift from providing beds for the night to housing-first strategies like Finland’s. Instead they are struggling to keep people off the streets….
In Finland it seems that homelessness is solvable. Can bigger countries do the same? https://t.co/4fRNFmJj2J
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) December 22, 2019