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The problem of the homeless in Finland

March 15, 2006
While the media and the government trumpet the triumph of the social safety net in Finland, there are the forgotten thousands in Finland who are without the basic necessities of life – including a roof over their heads.
 
Estimates vary with several sources pointing out that between 3300 and (up to) 10000 people are homeless in the Helsinki region. In Espoo, where I live, that number is some 400 according to a recent report in Länsiväylä. Punch "homeless people in Helsinki" into any search engine and you come up with these varying figures. Phil, a fellow blogger in Helsinki also reported recently on the number of homeless (per capita) in various cities in the U.S. and threw in the comparative figures for Helsinki and Stockholm: http://www.finlandforthought.net/2006/01/16/homelessness-in-stockholm-vs-the-us/. In doing so, Phil also stirred up a lot of debate, scroll down and read some of the comments left by visitors…
 
You don’t often see the homeless on the streets of Helsinki or in the capital region, but they are there. A homeless person has taken shelter under the bridge that leads to Kamppi, right in front of the nine-story Ruohoparkki parking garage; the evidence is there. A homeless man used to squat in the forest beside the massive Nokia complex at Karaportti in Espoo, with the construction of several new facilities in the area, he is no longer there. Just on the other side of the highway from IKEA in Espoo is evidence of a squatter in the middle of a swamp… Last week the Mr. and I were on our way home from the Depeche Mode concert when we were stopped by a man our age who wanted a mere 40 cents so he could go and sleep in one of the heated toilets that dot the downtown area. I would have given it to him, but I rarely carry cash these days, as it is so very easy to whip out a bank card to pay for everything… I felt bad, because it was rather cold that night.
 
As is the situation in hundreds of cities around the world, many of the homeless in the Helsinki area have similar stories: mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction, long-term unemployed… on the other hand there are many who have suffered the break-up of a relationship and thus have no place to live. If you cannot report a permanent mailing address in Finland, you can be classified as homeless it seems.
 
Veikko Hursti, who died on May 10, 2005, was a champion of the poor and disadvantaged people of Helsinki. He worked tirelessly to help those who needed it most. His legacy fortunately continues, with his son Heikki picking up where he left off. Helsingin Sanomat International reviews Veikko Hursti’s life in this obituary: http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Veikko+Hursti+Tireless+advocate+of+the+poor/1101979525092
 
To those of us who have a roof over our heads, we should take the opportunity to be thankful for that once in awhile.
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