Media Release by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Learning the lessons: Halving homelessness in Helsinki

Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor has visited the Finnish capital Helsinki to see first-hand how the country has halved homelessness over the past 25 years.

Just 7,572 were people counted as homeless in Finland in 2011, compared to almost 20,000 in 1987.

“Finland’s achievements are an inspiration to Australia as we work towards two ambitious goals – to halve the rate of homelessness and provide supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020,” Mr O’Connor said.

“On any given night, tens of thousands of Australians are homeless – couch surfing, sleeping in cars, in a shelter or crisis accommodation, or on the streets.

“This is unacceptable in a wealthy country like ours, which is why the Labor Government has made tackling homelessness a national priority, and why we are looking at what has worked in other nations.”

The Finnish National Program for the Reduction of Long-Term Homelessness aims to end long-term homelessness by 2015 and convert all shelters and dormitory-style hostels into supported housing.

It takes a ‘housing first’ approach, providing long-term stable housing rather than crisis accommodation as a first step, as well a range of services needed to manage the often complex needs of people vulnerable to becoming homeless.

Mr O’Connor toured the Helsinki Deaconess Institute’s Aurora-talo housing complex with the Institute’s Housing Services Director Heli Alkila overnight.

The refurbished hotel comprises 75 intensive support housing units and 50 assisted living units for people who were homeless before moving into the Aurora-talo.

“It was great to tour Aurora-talo – one of many innovative facilities across Finland that are giving homeless people not just a home but the foundations for a better future,” Mr O’Connor said.

“I was able to see the similarities with programs already operating in Australia, such as Street To Home, Common Ground and Youth Foyer, which use aspects of the ‘housing first’ model.”

Since 2008, the Australian Government has invested $5 billion in homelessness programs, including contributing $550 million to the $1.1 billion National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness with the States and Territories.

The funding is part of the Government’s unprecedented $20 billion investment in affordable housing and homelessness projects through schemes including the Social Housing Initiative, the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the Housing Affordability Fund and the Building Better Regional Cities initiative.

“We know that to break the cycle of homelessness, we have to ensure that there are affordable homes for people to live in,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Through our programs, the Australian Government has made a direct financial contribution to one in every 20 homes built since 2008.

“This is in stark contrast to the decade of neglect under the former government, which ripped $3 billion out of public housing.”

Mr O’Connor met with the Director General of the Finnish Department of the Built Environment, Helena Sateri, to discuss housing affordability, national housing policy and social housing initiatives in Finland.

Australia’s home ownership rates are at approximately 70 per cent, compared to 58 per cent in Finland, while social housing accounts for around five per cent of stock compared with Finland’s 15 per cent – representing more than half of all available rental homes in Finland.

Mr O’Connor said the Australian Government’s $5.6 billion investment under the Social Housing Initiative represents the single largest investment in social housing ever undertaken by an Australian Government.

“We know that Australia needs more affordable housing and we will continue to work to provide homes for our most vulnerable people,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Under the Social Housing Initiative, almost 20,000 homes are being built across the nation and more than 18,800 of these have already been completed.”

Repairs and maintenance have also been carried out on 80,000 existing homes, many of which would have been uninhabitable without the work.

Almost 10,000 homes have been built under the National Rental Affordability Scheme, with a further 30,000 in the pipeline and 10,000 more incentives still to be allocated.

August 6-12 is National Homeless Persons Week in Australia. For more information, visit