A simple solution to homelessness

Amid continual assaults against social security, public housing and wages, homelessness is rising in Europe, the UK, the US and Australia. 

An exception is Finland – where homelessness has fallen by 35 percent in the past eight years. The reason for the decrease is simple: the Finnish government has adopted a policy of providing homes for the homeless. 

In most other countries, homeless people jump through bureaucratic hoops to prove themselves worthy of having a roof over their heads. In Australia, emergency housing is poorly funded, overcrowded and dangerous, driving many – including a disproportionate number of retirement-aged women lacking superannuation funds – out of the system. 

But in Finland, housing is treated as a human right, so homeless people are given full and immediate access to public housing. The example shows that what is often presented as a complex issue is actually a matter of common sense: if houses are provided for the homeless, homelessness decreases.

Representatives of big business and government often claim that homelessness and poverty stem from a personal failure to take initiative: that the poor are simply not trying hard enough. But the real reasons could not be clearer. 

Across Australia, rents and utility bills have risen, wages growth has stagnated at nearly record lows and welfare payments are regularly cut by Liberal and ALP governments. 

Homelessness has increased by 70 percent over the past five years in Victoria, and the number of employed Australians seeking homelessness support has surged by 30 percent. 

Living conditions are getting worse, which makes people more likely to end up without their own place to live. 

Rather than meaningfully address the problem by building public housing, the Victorian Labor government is attempting to sell off nine inner-city estates to private developers. To deflect potential criticism, the government has promised to build 100 new social housing units over four years. But if current trends persist at even a fraction of their current rate, the rise of homelessness will far outpace this minor growth in social housing.

We could address the problem if, instead of treating housing as a commodity, we treated it as a human right.