In Finland, they are using the Housing First approach to end homelessness – and they’re succeeding. The numbers of people experiencing homelessness in Finland are steadily dropping. They follow the principle of ensuring a person or family is housed in a safe and permanent home first, from where they can receive any other supports they might need.

It means all Finnish people can have a stable base from which to live their lives, access work and education, have a better chance at addressing any challenges they’re facing and connect with their community. The Finns have invested in providing more affordable homes. Crisis accommodation has been transformed into the supported housing that people truly need.

Over in Portugal, they recently passed a new law which makes housing a right for its citizens with a clear roadmap to end homelessness and to prioritise providing more affordable housing.

Turning our gaze back to Australia, it’s irrefutable that homelessness is rising with both the number and rate of homelessness increasing between the 2011 and 2016 Census. With this in mind, it’s truly an international embarrassment that Australia has no national homelessness strategy that could prevent and end homelessness across our nation. Neither have governments prioritised the building of the 500,000 social and affordable homes we will need by 2030.

Mission Australia works to reduce homelessness across all points on the homeless spectrum including identifying early risk factors and preventing people being pushed into homelessness, supporting people to exit out of homelessness, helping people to maintain their tenancies, providing bricks and mortar homes for those who otherwise wouldn’t have one and working on a whole-of-place basis to help build strong communities.

Part of our work includes operating a number of services that directly support people who are rough sleeping – which represents 7% of the homeless population. This year, we are celebrating 40 years of providing essential support to people sleeping rough in Sydney’s CBD through Missionbeat. Our Missionbeat teams have spent four decades going above and beyond to offer the support needed, but what we know through all our work is that what people most desperately need is a home, which usually remains out of reach.

For people who have been rough sleeping or have experienced chronic homelessness, Housing First is the best solution. Once they have long-term housing that is safe and affordable they can truly benefit from the wrap-around supports they need. While people are homeless – we can support them to access hospital, access other services and find a meal – but addressing underlying and inter-related issues such as mental health are far more effective when someone has safe and stable housing as a starting point.

This year’s National Homelessness Week (4-10 August), which is aptly themed ‘housing ends homelessness’, will be launched in Tasmania where 1,600 people are homeless on any given night. While this is just one per cent of the 116,000 people experiencing homelessness nationally, when we look at the issue of homelessness at this scale, it emphasises what it will take to solve it.

Hobart is the least affordable capital city in Australia when you compare rents to income levels. 1While the focus on rising house prices is often bandied about when we talk about Melbourne and Sydney, rental stress is on the rise right across our ‘lucky country’ including in Tasmania and in regional areas. As of March 2019, there were more than 3,300 people on the social housing waiting list in Tasmania. 2The UNSW City Futures Research Centre estimates that investment in 18,000 social and affordable homes by 2036 could end the crisis not just in Hobart but across the state.3

As Finland is showing us, we do not have to accept homelessness as an inevitable reality. We just need to change the way we think about it and put housing first.

Mission Australia and our sector colleagues know what works to prevent and stop homelessness and with commitment from all governments, not-for-profit organisations, institutional investors and donations from the broader community, it can be done.

One initiative which Mission Australia joined this year is to commit to collaborating to end street sleeping across NSW as part of the act to end rough sleeping initiative. We will do things differently where we need to and are pleased to work with the NSW government and other organisations to halve street sleeping across NSW by 2025.

We have also been working with our partners on The Constellation Project including PwC, Centre for Social Impact, Red Cross and others towards ending homelessness in a generation. A key point continually raised as part of the project has been the need to generate more safe, affordable, accessible, appropriate and secure homes available to those who need them most – including those on low and moderate incomes.

The message is clear. We need more homes to end homelessness. Homelessness can be ended if those in our communities who need it have access to appropriate, affordable and secure housing, hand-in-hand with the support needed to help stay housed. More crisis accommodation instead of investing in social and affordable homes simply won’t end homelessness.

We need prevention, we need a national strategy and we need homes.

To have Housing First, we need houses…first.

Photo of James Toomey, CEO of Mission Australia


James Toomey
CEO Mission Australia

1 Anglicare Australia, Rental Affordability Snapshot, November 2018, p.46, accessible at:

2 The Examiner, 28 June 2019, ‘More than 3000 people on public housing waitlist’

3 City Futures Research Centre UNSW Built Environment, Estimating need and costs of social and affordable housing delivery Troy, ven den Nouweland and Randolph, March 2019

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