“You know Camp, we’re lucky to have a permanent roof over our heads, unlike the over 3’000 homeless people in Metro Vancouver.”
Campbell or Camp for short was just putting away the local paper while Rosie, our new Irish waitress, arrived with two ice cold pints of happiness. “Yes, but luck should have nothing to do with shelter and health in our rich society,” Camp said, “the right to healthcare is universal but impossible to achieve without proper shelter and housing.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “The reason I bring this up is I came across a year old report by the EU housing organization ‘Feantsa’ which concluded that every country in the EU is in the midst of a homeless crisis with one exception: Finland.”
“Really, so how has Finland done it?”
“By giving homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless, rather than muddling along with various services that may eventually result in an offer of accommodation,” I quoted from the article. “They enacted a policy called ‘Housing First’ dedicated to ending homelessness instead of managing it. With Housing First people do not have to earn their right to housing by proving their capability to manage their lives. Instead, they are provided with a stable home and individually tailored support.”
“That sounds almost utopian and why can Finland do it but we cannot?”
“That’s the multimillion dollar question,” I said. “It’s quite simple really. They made Housing First a national homelessness policy, making it possible to establish a wide partnership of state authorities, local communities and non-governmental organisations.”
“There must have been problems and opposition to this common sense but albeit radical approach?” Camp said.
“Not really since the plan included concrete objectives and resources to meet them. However some attitudes did have to change I’m sure.”
“But how does it work? It all sounds so simple?” Camp said.
“From what I read the tenants pay rent and are entitled to housing benefits, depending on their income. The rest is covered by the municipalities or services they buy from NGO’s. It costs money for sure but there is plenty of evidence that shows it is more cost effective to end homelessness instead of trying to manage it, to say nothing of the human and ethical reasons.”
“Why didn’t the outgoing major of Vancouver look at this policy or was he too busy building bicycle paths? Imagine how many homes they could have built for the 400 million dollars they spent on bicycle lanes in the past 10 years,” Camp said. “Nothing against bicycles but isn’t housing a more pressing priority?”
“How about 1600 quarter million dollar apartments?” Rosie said – who was just swooshing by with a tray of drinks – while we were still trying to figure out the math with our smart phones. “I did study 2 years of engineering before I switched to the arts,” she informed us. “That’s why I need this summer job here.”
“I think Moonbeam, as the mayor of Vancouver is sometimes referred to, tried to address the crisis and he certainly started the conversation but he was up against developers, too many levels of government and independent organisations getting in each other’s way,” I said.
“It’s not too late but there needs to be a political will and a change in attitude. Homelessness is not a shame, it’s a personal disaster,” Camp said.
“Or as Juha Kaakinen pointed out, the chief executive of the Finnish Y-Foundation, which provides 16,300 low cost flats to homeless people in Finland: Helping homeless people starts with giving them homes.”
“Yes, that makes sense to me,” Camp said, “but as long as housing is seen as a speculative real-estate market instead of a fundamental right, we will not be able to duplicate what Finland has done.”
Just then Rosie showed up with our refills and Camp had to ask her what she thought about housing and homelessness. “Well, I stayed with my single mom, first in the Kootenays and then in Roberts Creek with my step day until I was 22 and then moved into a shared flat with two other class mates from Emily Carr. Now I stay with my mom and Robert – my step dad – during the summer. I’ve never had a home of my own. Most of my friends share and many stay with their parents until their thirties.
“And the flipside is the kind of new subdivision like behind us,” I pointed out to Rosie and Camp. ‘There are now a dozen new million dollar houses and only in one house is there a family with 2 kids, all the others are dream homes for baby boomers. 4000 sqft, or 370 m2 of ten shades of Hardyboard mansions with four bathrooms for two people. Something is out of sync in this picture.”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Camp said while Rosie cleaned the table next to us. “And all they do is clean all day long like me,” she said with a chuckle. “At least I get paid for it.”