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Finland’s fight against homelessness is key point reference for the whole Europe  

​​​The European Committee of the Regions' SEDEC Commission held its external meeting in Tampere this week, allowing members to discover how Finland's third largest city is addressing the problem of homelessness. The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia's war in Ukraine have increased poverty and precarity in Europe, including homelessness. In Tampere, representatives of cities and regions highlighted the success of the Finnish experience and called for more support from the EU and national governments to develop effective prevention measures and housing-led solutions.

Tampere hosted the external meeting of the CoR's Commission for Social Policy, Employment, Education, Research and Culture (SEDEC) and its conference on homelessness on 20-21 April with speakers from the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and organisations working in the field. Members were invited to Tampere by Mikko Aaltonen (FI/PES), Vice-Chair of Tampere Municipal Council, rapporteur of a related opinion and the European Committee of the Regions' representative in the European​ Platform on Combatting Homelessness, which has become the focal point in assisting public authorities and reinforcing joint efforts with stakeholders and civil society. 

“As Deputy Mayor of Tampere between 2013-17, dealing with homelessness was one of my responsibilities. We managed to reduce homelessness by a third during the period", Mr Aaltonen explained. “Broad political support from all groups in the City Council has played a major role in achieving this objective. Finland's results and approaches are not always directly transferable to other European countries and cities, but they can be applied and serve as example. The will and willingness to intervene is the most important."

Current Deputy Mayor of Tampere Johanna Loukaskorpi highlighted that Finland has almost halved the number of homeless people since 2010 and could be the first EU Member State to reach the target of eradicating homelessness by 2027, if the next government continues socially sustainable housing policies. Cities and regions are crucial partners in this task, and the SEDEC members could discover different social housing initiatives implemented by the City of Tampere. These are led by the Housing First approach which aims at providing the hom​eless housing as fast as possible without any preconditions as well as follow-up social support.

Meanwhile the overall European situation remains grim, as pointed out by SEDEC Chair Tanya Hristova (BG/EPP), Mayor of Gabrovo: over the last 10 years, there has been a 70% increase in homeless population, and the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have drawn many fellow Europeans to the brink of poverty.

"Homelessness leads to many other problems, such as health risks, social exclusion and isolation. Regions and cities are the first respondents in times of crisis and we can provide support to vulnerable groups faster than the national authorities. However, if we realistically hope to achieve the target of eradicating homelessness by 2030, support from the European Union and national authorities is indispensable. EU provides funding opportunities through its funding streams, such as the ESF+ or the ERDF that can be invaluable in the implementation of homelessness policies", Ms Hristova said.

Maria del Carmen Barrera Chamorro, co-rapporteur of an upcoming EESC opinion on homelessness and Chair of Spanish Economic and Social Council, underlined that "our ultimate goal should be to end rather than manage homelessness, and to address its root causes in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights. A transformative and quality labour market is part of the solution to prevent homelessness and help people getting back on the leading wheel of their life."

Freek Spinnewijn, director of European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), pointed out that "Finland sets the example in EU on how to effectively address homelessness. The country is on track to solve this urgent problem by 2027 and will be the first European country to have done so. The policies and services in Finland should also serve as an inspiration for the recently launched European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, in which the CoR is a key partner."

The European Commission representative reaffirmed the Commission's commitment to address homelessness in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights via the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, through EU funding, policy support and improved data.

Mentoring: A powerful and meaningful tool for the Europe of tomorrow

At the preceding SEDEC meeting, members discussed another important topic which can help to prevent social exclusion. Anne Rudisuhli (FR/Renew E.), Member of Bouches-du-Rhône Departmental Council, is preparing an opinion which will highlight the importance of mentoring for integrating people in education and in the labour market, providing skills for quality jobs and green and digital transitions.

"Mentoring is a key tool for social cohesion, professional integration and the fight against inequalities. This practice is developing with initiatives in our regions and cities. However, more needs to be done by European, national and sub-national public authorities to support this momentum", Ms Rudisuhli said, pointing out the need for a European framework in this field.

To provide a concrete example from Finland, the Womento programme run by the Family Federation of Finland (Väestöliitto) has since 2011 provided mentoring for highly educated migrant women seeking work. The programme helps the participants find employment that matches their skills and boost their self-confidence and language skills, build networks and support the integration of their families. Programme Director Marina Wetzer-Karlsson explained that one third of participants are now employed in their own field of expertise and another third has improved their labour market participation.

Two new rapporteurs were appointed at the meeting: Donatella Porzi (IT/Renew E.), Regional Councillor in Umbria, will draft an opinion on "Stopping gender-based violence – cities and regions leading the way", and Roberto Pella (IT/EPP), Mayor of the Municipality of Valdengo, will be in charge of an opinion entitled "Building a European sports model: a vehicle for breaking down barriers and encouraging inclusion and social wellbeing among young Europeans".

The next SEDEC meeting will take place in Brussels on 21 June.

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