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Homelessness, Happiness and Human Dignity — A ‘Loving Kindness’ Approach

image source:  CBC

Recently, I wrote a blog titled “Lessons on Love” in which I implied a correlation between a country’s culture of loving kindness and its citizens’ happiness and quality of life.  In the two lists of top 10 countries, Canada barely made the bottom five of either list.  However, Finland scored #1 as having the happiest citizens.  When I dug a bit deeper, I discovered Finland is the only country on the European continent that is successfully en route to eliminating homelessness.  Can’t you feel the smile of relief coming from the pit of your stomach!  Someone has finally tackled this complex issue and figured out how to “bring everyone home”, well at least on the physical plane.

“We had to get rid of the night shelters and short-term hostels we still had back then [2008]. They had a very long history in Finland, and everyone could see they were not getting people out of homelessness. We decided to reverse the assumptions.”

As in many countries, homelessness in Finland had long been tackled using a staircase model: you were supposed to move through different stages of temporary accommodation as you got your life back on track, with an apartment as the ultimate reward.

“We decided to make the housing unconditional,” says Kaakinen, CEO of The Y-Foundation. “To say, look, you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”     The Guardian, June 2019

Now, that’s a concept!  Home security as a human right not a privilege.  Finland’s adopted model of ‘Housing First’ argues that this basic human right is the first step to recovery for homeless people.  By providing housing first, in concert with subsequent supportive treatment services, clients are  reintegrated with greater speed, effectiveness and satisfaction.  As an added incentive for converting the homeless to home-living, Finland specifically requires 25% of all housing development to be social housing.  Street sleeping is near to being completely eradicated.  The resulting sense of home and self-determination emerges as a high housing retention rate among participants, dramatically reduced cost of public services especially for high need clients, and increased participant well-being (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives).

Given the current homeless statistics in Canada — conservatively 35,000 on any given night and 235,000 to 1.3 million in a year — we have yet to assert our usual social conscious to met this issue head on.  Combine our increasing homelessness with our youth’s concern of not being able to afford a home, and I understand why Canada scored much lower than Finland on the happiest country list.  Further exacerbating the issue are inflated real estate markets in British Columbia and other urban Canadian settings.  Once again, economics is battling compassion and winning.

A majority of Canadians report the people they care about are at some risk of being homeless; nearly three quarters say homelessness has a serious or somewhat serious impact on Canada, and if female, the numbers move to 8 out of 10.   Nanos Research, December 2019

May we choose compassion and unconditional love over economics.