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A city with no streets

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Can the UK learn from the Finnish approach to combating homelessness?

Since 2010, the number of people in the UK has increased. However, in the Finnish capital Helsinki, rough sleeping has almost been eliminated thanks to a revolutionary scheme. What can UK cities learn from the Finnish people?

From Helsinki's grand central railway station to the hot cold evening it does not happen long before you notice something unusual.

No raw sleepers and no one is begging.

Contrast with the largest cities in the UK, where sleeping, blankets or tents are cut by rough sleepers, is a shared vision.

"In my childhood I remember hundreds or even thousands of people in parks and forests," says Sanna Vesikansa, Mayor of Helsinki.

"It was visible, but we no longer have it. There is no street homelessness in Helsinki."

Over the last 30 years, the fight against homelessness in Finland has focused on future governments.

In 1987, there were over 18,000 homeless people. Recent data from the end of 2017 show that there were about 6,600 people classified as homeless.

Most live with friends or family or are in temporary accommodation. Only a very small number of people are lying on the streets.

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Average Minimum Winter Temperature in Helsinki is -7C (19F)

So how have Finns been able to do it?

Since 2007, their government has developed a homelessness policy based on the "Housing First" principle.

Simply put, it gives rough sleepers or people who become homeless for stable and permanent housing as soon as possible.

It then provides them with the help and support they need. It can help someone who is trying to prevent addiction by helping them learn new skills or help them get training, education or work.

This is very different from the traditional approach in the UK where permanent housing is offered only after the homeless has been looking for homeless assistance or temporary accommodation.

One person who has benefited is Thomas Salmi, who became homeless when he was 18 years old and had to leave his children's home.

He spent three years on the streets of Helsinki, where the average minimum temperature in February was -7C (19F).

"When you lose everything, it really doesn't matter," he says. "Are you thinking about suicide, will I die? Is it safe?"

"It's cold, especially in the middle of winter. If you sleep outside, you might die."

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On the streets of the Finnish capital, Thomas Salmi won three bitterly cold winters

For the last two years, Tom has been a flat in a large complex run by the Helsinki Diakonese Institute (HDI), one of several organizations that provide housing for other homeless people.

For 24 years he says that living HDI has helped him turn his life. He drank heavily while living on the streets, but now he's just drinking alcohol at the weekend.

Housing First, home supply is unconditional. Even if someone is still using drugs or abusing alcohol, they will still stay at home or in the apartment unless they work with support staff.

They do not have to pay the rent and people can even choose to stay for their entire life.

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Helsinki Deacon Institute

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The Helsinki Deacon Institute has more than 400 apartments for the former homeless

"They told me it was my house," says Tom. "And I ask them – will anyone tell me," we need this house and you have to go? "But they told me," No, it's your house, you can do whatever you want. "

"When I have a stable home, I can try to build everything else around it, such as work, learning, family, friends. But when you're on the streets, you don't have it."

HDI has a total of 403 apartments in Helsinki and the neighboring city of Espoo.

Tenants come together in the communal kitchen for lunch and entertainment in the lounge. Support staff are always available.

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Pia Rosenberg has been outside the streets for more than four years

Pia Rosenberg, 64, has lived in the same first housing project since 2014, when she was homeless for two years.

"It's right for me because I'm an alcoholic and I'm allowed to drink in my room," she says. "And if I need help, I'll get it.

"You don't feel good if you don't have a home."

According to official data, the number of unoccupied sleepers in England has increased from 1768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017.

Charities like a shelter say that the real number of people lying on rough is much larger. Official figures are based on the number of homeless people in the streets every year in the autumn.

The first successes of housing have drawn the attention of the UK government, which last year agreed to pay for pilot schemes in Great Manchester, Merseyside and West Midlands.

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Media signaturesManchester is studying from the capital of Finland

Trials are about to begin, and they will be designed to help the most entrenched sleepers.

But is it a good idea to fundamentally hand over housing keys without having to give up alcohol or drugs?

"We see that it works in Finland, so why not work here," says Neil Cornthwaite, head of operations at the homeless charity Barnabus Manchester.

"There are many obstacles for people to get home, and some groups of people are excluded from projects because they depend on their mental health.

"So if we have another opportunity where we can place people at home, not just in bed, despite their problems, then I think this is a really positive step forward."

Will it work in the UK? While the scheme in Finland is considered to be a success, there are shortcomings. Homes are not always available immediately and the figures show that around one in five people return to homelessness at some point.

Such housing people are not cheap. Finland has spent about £ 262 million (EUR 300 million) over the last decade, providing 3,500 new homes for homeless people and over 300 new support staff.

The UK government spends 28 million pounds on the first three housing schemes and hopes to provide around 1000 homes.

One of the main housing architects in Finland, Juha Kaakinen, believes that it will only work if the UK authorities are fully committed.

"In many places, Housing First of all, there are small projects with a small number of apartments. You need it to be much larger to end homelessness and therefore it should be a public policy, otherwise it will not work."

Mr Kaakinen suggested that the United Kingdom prioritize tackling the housing crisis.

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Christopher Furlong

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The number of sleepers in England since 2010 has increased

"The main issue seems to be the lack of affordable social housing. To solve homelessness, it is something that will otherwise be a very difficult task."

The great Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, is confident that the scheme is the right answer.

"You can't have good health or good living without good housing," he says.

"I am sure we will show that housing can work first. I will ask the government to make this permanent."

Housing and Homelessness Minister Heather Wheelers insists that the government hears and acts.

"No one is supposed to spend their lives on the streets or without a home to call their own.

"And the evidence shows that housing first is incredibly successful in helping people rebuild their lives."

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Sanna Vesikansa, Deputy Mayor of Helsinki

In Helsinki, Deputy Deputy Vesikana believes that combating homelessness and ending untreated sleep is not only a moral duty, but also a long-term savings.

"We already know that it pays off because we have spending elsewhere if people are homeless. They have more serious health problems that are then delivered to the ambulance and hospital.

"Homelessness and rough sleep is something we just can't find in our cities, people who die on the streets. It's not the way we live."

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