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Street looks to Finnish homelessness

Street looks to Finnish homelessness

🕔14.Nov 2017

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has travelled to Finland – thought to be the only country in Europe where homelessness is falling – to see how they have virtually eradicated the problem.

Homelessness and rough sleeping is a growing problem in Birmingham, so much so that both the Mayor and Birmingham city of council have set up task forces to tackle the issue.

In a special report for BBC Midlands Today, Mr Street travelled to Helsinki with reporter Ben Sidwell.

The BBC report (preview clip)asks whether such a project would be viable in the UK and will be broadcast during BBC Midlands Today this evening at 6.30pm.

The scheme, Homeless First, was implemented in 2008 and within eight years had taken 1,500 long term homeless off the streets and put them into permanent low cost housing with individually tailored support.

Andy Street told the BBC:

We have got to be realistic about this. This can’t be about a sticking plaster.

This has been a very serious commitment on behalf of the Finnish state and the city of Helsinki. We have got to ask ourselves the question, are we prepared to make a similar commitment?

The scheme has cost 240 million Euros over eight years but is said to have saved the country money in the process.

Mr Street added:

They have invested big time in building communities and put trust in people and we have got to reflect as to whether we can be similarly ambitious.

But there’s a lot to reflect on because they have achieved something really outstanding here.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is expected to be confirmed as the three year pilot area for Housing First in the UK.

Chamberlain Files understands that the Mayor and WMCA colleagues are reasonably confident about Housing First being confirmed as part of ‘Devo Deal II’ alongside the Budget on 22 November.  However, it is expected that Government commitments on housebuilding may not follow until early in the New Year.

Julia Goldsworthy, WMCA’s Director of Strategy who is leading devolution negotiations for the Mayor, told a meeting of the Board last Friday that deliberations would continue right up to the wire. Figures close to the Mayor continue to express varying levels of astonishment when it comes to dealing with central Government in the current political situation.

James Burn, the Green Party’s candidate for West Midlands Mayor in the May election has today congratulated Andy Street for looking to launch Housing First – an approach to tackling homelessness that has seen huge success in Finland and the United States.

Cllr Burn, the leader of the opposition on Solihull Council, said:

During the mayoral campaign, I was the only candidate to specifically call for Housing First in my manifesto, so I’m both surprised and really very excited to see that Andy Street has committed to trying Housing First in the West Midlands.

The great thing about Housing First is that as well as putting a roof over people’s heads, it saves cash in the long run, by reducing how much you have to spend on policing and enforcement, as well as on health and benefits.

The reason is simple – people with the security of their own home can get their lives on track, and they stay healthier and find it easier to get into work – if you’re homeless you have no stability. It’s really hard to move forward living like that. Housing First breaks that cycle.

Cllr Burn continued:

Andy Street deserves a lot of credit for listening to people suggesting the Housing First idea, and for pushing to try it here.

I wish the project every success – because, we have thousands of people here who need it to be successful.

The full report can be seen on BBC Midlands Today at 6:30pm this evening.

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