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How best to house homeless people?

11 September 2018

Speaker at AHURI conference Melb614

Finland’s Juha Kaakinen, CEO of Y-Foundation, proved to be an inspiring speaker at the homelessness conference.

Some 810 delegates, including 21 delegates with lived experience of homelessness, gathered to learn from an array of national and international speakers at the MCG in August 2018.

It was Australia’s first national housing conference in four years, auspiced by Homelessness Australia (which was defunded three years ago) and AHURI (the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute).

Ending homelessness together, 6 - 7 August 2018

View the presentations from the conference - Ending homelessness together—ahuri.edu.au

More information about homelessness


The subjects of housing and homelessness are pressing. As of the 2016 Census, there are now more than 116,000 homeless people, with 288,000 people applying for help from homeless services each year.

US Professor Marah Curtis, discussing housing stability’s implications on wellbeing, noted that ‘you can’t talk about homelessness without talking about the housing market’.

‘Housing matters… the reason we care about housing is that it is not just a matter of shelter, but also a “bundle of goods”, including labour market success, health and education,’ she added. ‘Housing and wellbeing interact.’

Housing is both a treatment and an outcome; housing markets matter,’ agreed RMIT Professor Guy Johnson.

Noting the federal government’s decision to not address housing in the 2018 budget, the professor pointed to housing’s place in family stability in times of life crises such as changes in family situations, job loss and redundancy, and increasing housing costs.

‘This is not an issue about the behaviour of people,’ he explained. ‘It’s about random events that impact on families. Homelessness is a condition, not a permanent status.’   

Kate Colvin from CHP (the Council to Homeless Persons) acknowledged the reality that 13.2% of Australians now live below the poverty line, and issues of structural inequality, inequity and political were a staple conversation throughout the conference. Several politicians, including Labor’s shadow minister for housing and homelessness Senator Doug Cameron, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and Victorian minister for housing Martin Foley, used the conference to call for investment and an end to homelessness.

Finland’s Juha Kaakinen, CEO of Y-Foundation, was an inspiration as he shared that nation’s success in beginning to reduce homelessness (moving from more than 3,000 rough sleepers in 2008 to 2,000 rough sleepers in 2014).

From 2008 to 2016, long-term homelessness in that country has been reduced by 35%. Mr Kaakinen thanked The Salvation Army for its role in transforming the lives of rough sleepers in that country.

‘You can’t only help “nice” homeless people,’ he noted. ‘We live in a world where only money matters, but I say we cannot afford to not end homelessness. Housing a homeless person is an investment that pays off in a maximum of seven years, Cost savings get bigger when a homeless person needs less support or returns to employment.

‘The Finnish government has made a decision of principle to halve the existing homelessness population before 2022,’ he added.

More than 3,500 new apartments have been built or purchased to house homeless Finns, which has had a positive outcome on social and health problems following the securing of housing.

Ending homelessness ‘is an economically viable goal,’ he contended, adding the caveat that ‘a plan without financing is not a plan – it is a wish list’.

‘Fix your social housing system,’ he entreated. ‘Without that, your work reminds us of the ancient work of Sisyphus.’ (In a Greek myth, Sisyphus was condemned to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity.)

Mr Kaakinen said the solution to end homelessness included political will; solidarity; an ambitious plan with concrete, measurable goals; affordable social housing; and ‘less rhetoric, more action’.