BBC Manchester is this week launching a series of special reports on TV and radio investigating the homelessness crisis in Manchester and how it can be solved. The series includes a look at Finland, the only EU country where homelessness is declining.
Former homeless man Graham Hudson turned his life around after crime, drink, drugs and prison eventually left him homeless for three years and living on the streets for four months.
For the series, Graham travelled to Helsinki to investigate how Finland has drastically cut its number of homeless people and virtually eliminated rough sleeping.
“There are no rough sleepers, no-one is begging,” said Graham about Helsinki. “When you come out of a station in Manchester it’s normal to see a dozen people within five minutes’ walk.”
Over the last 30 years, tackling homelessness has been a focus for successive governments in Finland according to the city’s deputy mayor Sanna Vesikansa, who grew up in the capital and has helped oversee the drop in homelessness.
“Street homelessness doesn’t exist in Helsinki,” says Sanna. “In my childhood I remember there were hundreds, or even thousands of people sleeping in the parks and forests. It was visible, but we don’t have it anymore.”
Since 2007, homeless policies in Finland have been based on the “Housing First” principle, which gives rough sleepers or people who become homeless a stable and permanent home of their own as soon as possible.
This is unlike the traditional approach in the UK, where a permanent home is only offered after a homeless person has sought help in a hostel or temporary accommodation.
“That makes a huge difference in terms of people recovering,” says Graham. “When you know you have that stable home to go back to and stay in, when you fall off the wagon to know that it’s still there, that must be massively uplifting.”
Finland has spent around 300 million euros over the last decade, providing 3,500 new homes for the homeless and more than 300 new support workers. The money has come from national and local government.
Last year, the UK government agreed to pay for Housing First pilots in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands, with trials due to start shortly. These pilots are on a smaller scale compared to the Finnish project, but the UK government hopes around 1,000 homes will be provided under the three Housing First schemes.
“You cannot have good health or a good life without good housing,” says the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who has been interviewed for the BBC series.
“I’m confident we will show that Housing First can work in Greater Manchester. I will be asking the Government to make this permanent.”
“No one is meant to spend their lives on the streets, or without a home to call their own,” says Heather Wheeler MP, Minister for Housing & Homelessness. “And evidence shows that Housing First has an incredible rate of success in helping people rebuild their lives.
“Through our Housing First Pilot and Rough Sleeping Initiative, we are providing over £11.1m of funding to Manchester to give rough sleepers the support they need to get off the streets for good.
“We’re investing £1.2bn nationally to tackle homelessness and have bold plans, backed by £100m, to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. And to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, we’ve changed the law to require councils to provide early support for those at risk of being left with nowhere left to go.”
It has been a huge eye opener to witness first-hand how Finland has tackled what is now a major issue for Greater Manchester, says BBC Radio Manchester managing editor Kate Squire.
“We hope our listeners will be moved by Graham’s story, and the journey we’ve taken him on to see how other countries tackle homelessness.”
The first report will be broadcast on the Breakfast Show with Chelsea Norris, with further reports across the week. There will also be TV reports on North West Tonight on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd January.