Jul 5, 2024
40 min
Episode 5

UNPOLITICS: Juha Kahila - 'From Shelters to Homes'

Ben Kaplan  00:00

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Ben Kaplan  00:59

Hey, it's Ben Kaplan. Today on Unpolitics, I'm chatting with Juha Kahila, Head of International Affairs at the Y Foundation, Finland's largest national nonprofit landlord, this organization provides affordable rental housing nationwide, with more than 18,000 homes nearly 60 locations. Juha is also a coordinator for the Nordic homelessness Alliance, and the housing first Europe Hub, where he oversees training courses that put placements and housing as the starting point of services for the homeless instead of the end goal. So why does Juha believe that we need to think and talk differently, to really make progress on homelessness? And why does he view treatment on demand as the next frontier to tackle and truly caring for our most disadvantaged community members? Let's innovate? Juha, first of all, you've been a passionate practitioner of solving the homeless crisis. How did you get started as this being your cause? And at this point, kind of your life's work around eradicating homelessness?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  02:00

Yeah, thanks. Thanks for inviting me. And I think we have to go back to year 2005. When I started DESA, I was working at a school and a teacher's assistant, and I thought that you know, working at the source or field in the school or with young people, something that I would like to do. And then then I decided to go go and get a master's degree from social services, and ended up working in Child Child Protection for a few years, actually, actually, and then I thought that, hey, you know, a lot of these stories, we I think we could prevent them from happening. And then then I went working at the youth housing association services. And then they build affordable homes for young people, and also do a lot of work for the support services for young people. And that's how I got started. So I start as a support worker for young, young homeless people, and and then got interested how to develop the service to do a little bit better, and start working with the housing first and these kind of things. And at the end of the day, I was developing the services in that NGO and did that for a couple of years. And by the end of my career there, I was the CEO of the whole NGO. But I think there has always been this kind of question that why there should be homeless people in the civil society or anywhere that housing should be like this, this human rights for all. And I think that question has always bothered me that why this is show and of course, I'm on a quest to recall that question.

Ben Kaplan  03:19

One of the things and I'd love your perspective is that I think makes the problem so challenging is that there's a lot of related and Confluence issues. There's the core housing question, but there's also lots of questions related to poverty, lots of questions, unrelated issues related to mental health or substance abuse or other kinds of issues. Do you think that some of the question of how to solve homelessness is having the right kind of focus? Because it can quickly become a question like, how do you solve all of poverty? That's a really big question. That's hard. A lot of people would love to do it. But it's some of this focus on certain things that we can affect and almost not trying to tackle the entire question around poverty.

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  04:05

That's a good question. And I think we have, you know, miscommunicated work a little bit in the homelessness field that you know that the homelessness sector could end homelessness, because that is not true. I think, like you're setting out there as the poverty issues there to substance misuse, mental health issues, there the problem with the affordable housing situation in the whole world. And and I think it all comes to the to the question of affordable housing, because when we have affordable housing for people, you know, then then we have tackled one part of the problem, which I think is the biggest one, because everywhere I have traveled I think the one thing that all the politicians and the decision makers tell me is that they regret that at some point they have stopped building upon affordable housing, because that has also lead into poverty in many senses because people have spent more money that they can afford for housing, and at the end of the day, they are on at some point they may have been on the risk of losing their apartment. And you know what that has happened in in many cases. So I think the biggest question at the moment is the quest question regarding the affordable housing situation and how we can tackle that, in many cases. And and through that, I think we can also call closure of offending poverty, which is a whole whole another other question in, in my opinion as well, regarding that.

Ben Kaplan  05:18

Well, and I think one of the things that's been challenging and to think about, I'd love your perspective on this is like how solutions translate around the world, meaning, there's some things that work in some countries that are that are obviously smaller, or have a different way of, let's say, deploying a social safety net, there's companies that larger that have different policies in regard to kind of all of these issues. And one of the things that comes up because you mentioned affordable housing that I think has been challenging, especially in the US, is this notion of is there a housing surplus? Or is there a shortage and different places in the US like a place like Houston, which has been successful and done some housing policies and made some real progress, sometimes that's held up as an example, as a US example. But where I'm based in San Francisco, it's sort of the opposite of Houston, and that there's such a shortage of housing, it's very hard to implement Housing First. And we can talk about what that means, mostly because it's so difficult to build new housing. And it takes so long that sometimes good intentions, like people want housing first, but it becomes housing way later, because there's not enough housing. So what is your perspective on how this translates? Sometimes people say, like, oh, this work here, I'm just gonna do exactly that over here. And then it doesn't work. And then people say, Well, what happened? And it disrupts the whole thing? How does this translate to other places? Well, I

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  06:40

think there's not only one way to do Housing First, in my opinion, I think we need to adapt the house housing first model to work in our own context. And I think that what we did in Finland as well, we didn't do it like the original US model that was created back in 1990s, in New York, but we made it to work in our own context in our own society. So what we did, for example, in Finland, that we renovate almost router shelters and temporary accommodation into permanent homes for people because we knew that we need more affordable homes as fast as possible to make change possible. So that's what we did. So I think there has to be this, this adaptation. And, and two weeks ago, actually, I was in San Francisco, and I was shocked when I heard the prices of a studio apartment in the downtown area, and in the Oakland or whenever and, you know, people can afford those those kinds of prices. But yeah, and and I also heard the stories that when you start building or are planning affordable housing, that can take from six to 10 years. And during that time period, you lost the word affordability. Because it takes a long day, interest rates go up and all these kinds of things. So at the end of the day, you just have housing, you don't have affordable housing. But I think what what some of the organizations have done in done in San Francisco, for example, they have started buying the empty buildings, there are many empty office buildings, old hotels, these kind of things and start renovating them into housing, permanent housing for people with the support on site if needed. So I think we need to think these kinds of rest of our, you know, solutions as well when it comes to housing, because like you said, it will take years people, before people actually can can get access to housing. So I think we need to work what we have at the moment. And in in many cases, in many big cities, we have a load of empty office, office spaces, old hotels and different kinds of, you know, buildings that we can use when we renovate them. And and you know, that way, we can work faster as well. And I think you know, we have to be brave enough to try to rush to lose,

Ben Kaplan  08:36

I want to actually get it's an interesting take on how Finland adapted kind of housing first policies to your situation. I think it's interesting is when I break down when I think of what housing first means, and for maybe people listening who don't know what that tagline means, I actually break it down into two different components. One component is just the focus on we're gonna focus on housing, meaning, the definition of homelessness is not having a house, there's a lot of other support services or a home a lot of other support services that we need. But we're not going to try to do everything. So some of it is just a focus, like let's focus on housing. But then the other part has been the focus on permanent housing specifically, right. And the idea of having permanent housing. That's where things get a little bit more complex as like we're talking about San Francisco. There's different capabilities of certain cities or countries to create that permanent housing. And then I think a third thing and II, I've heard you talk about this, and it's also present in places like Houston, if I want to add one more part to the model. It's like a lot of coordination between public groups, private groups, nonprofits, lots of stakeholders. Is that a good description of housing first, and I actually think it gets lumped into one idea, but there's actually different pieces of it. Do you agree or do you disagree with that?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  09:49

Yeah, I agree. I think in Finland when we talk about our housing first it's like you know, there's housing of course, different housing solutions. Some people like to live scattered housing Some people live to live in India. unit's, which means like community basically being support on site. And then then of course, you need to have housing to do Housing First. Or, of course, in Finland, we have, you know, 13% of all the housing is affordable housing. So that helps a lot. But then I would also also add prevention, because I think that is one of the key things at the moment that we should should try to do everything in our power to prevent homelessness happening all together. Because, of course, that is the best best possible way to do the work. And of course, affordable housing is the best structural element, I guess, against homelessness altogether. So I think when we add prevention to your description, I think we are quite close. It's

Ben Kaplan  10:35

a great point, because I was actually looking at there's a recent study done in the state of California in the US that for a lot of people that ended up being unhoused. And actually, we should differentiate, they're sort of the chronically homeless that might have other deeper issues that result in this, but there's also transitory homeless, transitional, it's like, you could just be in a situation or a family could be in a situation where they just have like a negative event that happens, it's unexpected. And because there's not enough help, at that moment, that event causes them to be homeless. And when you look at what was done in California, I think the average was for over, I think it was 1/3, to one half of folks who became homeless, what they actually needed to prevent homelessness was something as little in the scheme of things as a $500 payment in the month where something negative happened, and maybe a few months after that, and that would have prevented it. And it seems like the number one thing we can do is like, you know, we have so much more leverage to address the problem if we can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. But we don't emphasize that enough. And then from a public policy point of view, it's so much more expensive to have someone be homeless and try to get them out of that situation than to prevent it in the first place. So I love that you mentioned prevention. What can we do more about that? Why don't we talk about that enough? Why don't we talk about how to prevent it from happening in the first place? That's

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  12:00

a good question. I think and and, you know, in Finland, we have been talking about prevention since 2016, more or less together with the housing first, and I think they should go hand in hand. And and in Finland, I think, of course, like I mentioned, affordable housing is good way to, you know, prevent homelessness all together. But then again, we have created this kind of housing advisory services, which tackle that exact issue that you just described. So if someone is struggling to pay the rent, struggling to pay the mortgage, or they have some some other issues related to their housing, they can contact these housing advice services, which will, you know, try to do everything in their power to make sure that, you know, people get through their currencies, and at the end of the day, prevent eviction. And then you knows these things happened, someone gets, you know, lost their job, they don't know how to claim the unemployment benefits, they don't know how to fill the forms, because they have never been in that situation. So to prevent, you know, that happening that, you know, people can claim the benefits that they're entitled to, they can contact the housing advice services and ask help, how do I feel what paperwork so I can make, make my rent payment next month? And and that has been a really effective way in preventing homelessness altogether?

Ben Kaplan  13:08

And how do you do that? Because I think one of the challenges that you hear from some city governments certainly is true, where I am in San Francisco is that it's not like one place the person has to go, they have to go to so as you hear like eight different offices, 10 different offices, and it's confusing for someone who has housing isn't in the threat of losing their housing, let alone someone would you can imagine the stress of having this moment and you think, what are you going to do? Has there been any effort to streamline the process streamline where people go, because sometimes we've had, oh, you need this approval from over here. And this group does this. And this group can help you here. And it just makes it confusing. And the other factor with this is that sometimes you don't have much time. So it's like when this is about to happen, if it's like seven days, 10 days, you don't have time to like take a month to navigate the system and learn how it works. What have you done to streamline the solution to get it people if you're going to prevent this, and you've got a week to do this?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  14:09

Yeah, well, I think, you know, do you organize to housing advisor or Missy? Is it City's responsibility, and I will use city of Helsinki as an example. So they have one, one phone number one email address to the housing advice services, for example. So people don't have to navigate where should I call? Or where should I send an email. And then they are usually very quickly quick to reply. So you don't have to wait that seven days to someone to get back to you. And then regarding the benefits, we only have one office that claims all the benefits in people's life, for example, the pensions and the housing benefits and unemployment benefits and so on. It's only one office. So you don't need to navigate to different offices and have approval stamps or whatever. It's one office, you just need to make sure that you feel the right forms in that sense, and that's why the housing adviser started to help in the first place. The

Ben Kaplan  14:58

other part that I think is become a point of contention is sometimes getting the other services to people who might really have deep seated problems. And there's been cases, for instance, where we get someone, let's say, Who's chronically homeless, because it's a deep seated problem. Like it's not just a one time adverse event, it's a substance abuse issue. It's a mental health issue, just getting them housing doesn't really solve the issue. And in fact, in some cases, people can overdose on drugs in their room, there can be other things that happen, how do you get the other services to them fast enough? Because like, if it's how, if it's Housing First, that's just first, that doesn't mean housing only right? How do you get them the other things they need, particularly in a case where someone who's chronically homeless, there might be a reason if they've been homeless for years, that that's the case and the housing doesn't really solve that underlying reasons. Yeah,

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  15:55

and I love how you just mentioned that Housing First is not housing only because I've had a lot of critiques from us regarding the housing. First, what I learned, when I listened to those critics, I think that describe the housing only model, if there's no mention of the support housing first in Fremont, it always comes with the support. So there are different organizations, NGOs, the city by themselves, they are doing the support work for people. So there are home visits and these kinds of things. And and I think most of the people who have been homeless for many years, and there are these other challenges as well, they chose to live in these housing first units, like I mentioned, we select community based living that there are, you know, let's say, 40 apartments in one building, and then the support is on site downstairs, 24/7 If and when needed. And that has been a quite good solution for many people. And actually, when I was in San Francisco, I visited one of these kinds of units there as well. I think there was something like 120 apartments in one building. And that support was on site 24/7. And I met with met one older gentleman there who had been homeless for 40 years for decades. Yes, wow. Yes, for decades. And now he had a home of his own. And he was so proud to show us so the apartment to me, and it was beautiful. And you know, he, you can really tell that he appreciated his apartment, and that he said that he couldn't have done it without the support on site. So I think you know, the different housing solutions with different support elements come into play. But in Finland, when we are talking about housing first, it always means to support one way or another. And then it depends on people's needs, of course. So it has to be tailor made.

Ben Kaplan  17:32

How did you work? I mean, you mentioned that in Finland, your particular flavor of this was converting temporary housing or like a shelter to permanent? How did that work? How did that happen? Were these structures that could support that? Because a lot people might say like, Oh, it doesn't support that conversion. The types of places that are shelters are not the types of places that can be permanent. How did it work in Finland? How are you able to do that? Because I think one of the big issues for a lot of places that just doesn't have enough housing, in general, is what's the fastest path to get to housing when it's so difficult to get it?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  18:03

Well, I think in Finland, we have good examples, because, for example, we have the biggest shelter in the whole northern Europe, over 250 Bed places. And after the renovation, there are 81 individual apartments for people. So it can be done. And then of course, it takes a lot of courage at the same time. But we felt that it's the only way to go all in in a way that we want to do the system change. We didn't want to start with a pilot project here and there, but we want to change the whole system. And we knew that the only way to do that is to renovate existing shelters and temporary accommodation into permanent homes. So there are many, many different sizes, sizes, that are washed many different sized shelters, you know, from 50 beds to 250 beds,

Ben Kaplan  18:47

did you have enough temporary shelters for the population? Or did you have a shortage in that? Or did you have a surplus? Like what was the state of just someone who wanted to get temporary shelter on a short term basis? They need it now? Could they get shelter, but you're saying oh, we had 250 beds, we've converted it to 81 permanent apartments. But now what about the other 100 Something spots? We'd lost? Did you have enough? Because sometimes there's two sides, that kind of battle? And it's like, are you for permanent housing? Or are you for temporary housing and it's like, either do one or the other. So that's why I'm curious about what happened to the temporary housing after you did that.

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  19:26

We still have some temporary accommodation. We still have some shelter pets, and I think there will always be need for some. But I think the main main thing that we learned is that, you know, when back in the days we built more shelters, they were always full. But when we start renovating them into permanent homes, we didn't end up in a situation where where we didn't have enough bed places. So I think it sort of creates the creates also this kind of model that when you build more shelters, they end up being full as well. When you do the opposite, you know you don't need as many bad places I think because you can actually house people. So I think when we come to a question of our do we want to manage homelessness, or do we want to end homelessness in a way, but then FEMA, we didn't have that problem. And of course, it took a lot of coordination that when we did the renovations that make sure that you know, everyone have played one place to stay during that time. And then I think we succeed quite well. And and, and all the people who were in the shelter stay, at the end of the day, they were having apartment a home of their own, when the renovations were over.

Ben Kaplan  20:29

If someone just has a negative event, they're sort of transitionally, homeless, it might be solvable by the housing itself, or some financial support or something that prevents homeless, but for the folks who are chronically homeless, like the gentleman you mentioned, for four decades, to help solve the issue, it might not just be like, Oh, they're the person number 1029, in your list of homeless people, but instead, this is Bob. Bob is a person, this is an understanding Bob, and there's been progress around the world, when it starts to be like, really complex issues, you have to bring lots of resources, and it has to be like you truly understand each individual, because you're going to So is there an attempt to sort of get beyond the numbers to get to the person in Finland, so that these really complex cases you can start to make progress on? They're not the easy cases?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  21:20

No, no, not the easy cases. And of course, you know, behind every number, there's a story, there's a human being behind every number. And of course, we need to know who they are and what are their challenges and what they need. Of course, and and I think we we are going into that direction. I know that we are not the first one. So we tried to do it, for example, you mentioned in USD and they are doing great work and Iran from the Scandinavian countries are in Denmark, there is the city of codec who was trying to do something similar. And then I think in Finland, we are just now starting to be a little bit curious about what we could do with the Python namelist system. And and of course, that's something that I hope that we see in Finland in the future as well. But I must say that in the City of Helsinki, where most of the homeless people are, I think they are doing a quite good job. And actually, they know everyone who are long term homeless people, and they have social workers who are working with those people on a regular basis. So no, so they know what's, what is going on with their lives, and what is the situation and so on. So I think we have made some good progress regarding that then, but we are nowhere near perfect. At this time.

Ben Kaplan  22:27

You work for y foundation in the largest Finnish NGO devoted to providing housing for homeless individuals. When I think of Finland, which is very beautiful country, I've enjoyed my visit to Helsinki before I've enjoyed going for the cold plunge in the sauna and all of that. But I also think I'm trying to imagine homelessness in that cold environment. Can people even in winter, be homeless outside? Like, how does that work? Because I haven't lived permanently in a cold environment where literally, it might be life threatening to be outside? How does that work? And that gives you a greater sense of urgency. And when you have obviously very cold weather sometimes. Yeah,

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  23:07

yeah, well, of course. And of course, I'm really proud to say that, you know, in Finland, we don't have that many people who are rough sleepers who have to stay outside. So the official number from last year is that we have 3429 homeless persons. And out of that number 70% are temporarily staying with the friends and relatives and then 25% With in shelters and temporary accommodation, and then only small amount of people who actually are on the streets. And during the winter time. There are no no people sleeping on the streets, we make sure that they're gonna get a roof over their head, because like you mentioned that winters can be really cold. And you know, it's a life threatening situation to spend a night in a cold winter night. But I think you know, we have done that in Finland, but in January I was in in Canada visiting the city of Ottawa, Ottawa, Winnipeg. And they're the winters are as cold as in in Finland. And there were, you know, a lot of African men sort of people's, you know, who were sleeping on the tents and so on. So I think what we have done in Finland is really remarkable regarding the weather and everything. But But yeah, their work is not over yet.

Ben Kaplan  24:16

What about this issue of encampments? What is your perspective on that? Because I think a lot of cities that have have issues of public safety crime, there's this almost this tension between people don't want encampments anymore, but there's no place to go. So how do you think the issue of encampments factors into that because it tends to pit people who say, let's just clean up the streets. Let's get rid of encampments. Other people don't know where to go. How has that become like a symbol and a blocker and just creates a lot of division over like, oh, is this a zero sum game before we have to choose between public safety or caring for the homeless and it creates a lot of divisiveness? Yeah,

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  24:55

yeah, it's a good question, but you know, cleaning the streets and and Hey, the thing campmates, you know, it doesn't do any good for anybody, in my opinion, when I was in San Francisco walk on the streets in intellia law and and, you know, I talked to a lot of the people who were living on the streets and ask about their stories, because I'm always curious to do with those kinds of things. And, and you know, those people, they're just people like us, they are not dangerous. I think 90% of the people who I spoke to drugs or mental health issues, wasn't the reason why they were on the streets, it was financial problems, because they couldn't afford to pay the rent or mortgage anymore. And the drugs have become consequence, because they were on the streets for so many months or years that they ended up using drugs,

Ben Kaplan  25:39

you're saying, because it became a coping mechanism for the situation, and then it became less addictive, very hard to stop

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  25:45

exactly. And then, you know, it's hard to understand what people really want, because on the other hand, they don't want to have any cabinets and tents. And then when you say that, hey, we could build a house for these people here as well, well, we don't want that either. So it's either way you do, you're not going to please people. And that's not what we are trying to do. And I think, you know, cleaning the streets, it doesn't do any good for the people who are sleeping on the tents, it doesn't do any good for the safety, because people will always come back. And then it's, it's the waste of resources, police resources, it's a waste of money, it will not end homelessness, it will only manage it and make it worse, in my opinion. So it's a waste of resources, in many ways.

Ben Kaplan  26:26

What do you think about maybe other types of innovative solutions to kind of get housing faster, and one that's been talked about as tiny houses, individual unit sizes are made in a modular way they can be sometimes moved around, they might not have a permanent foundation, we've talked about that. What have you seen working are there other innovative approaches to sort of get the housing stock needed, whether it's temporary housing, whether it's permanent housing, what other stores since you travel around the world doing this have you heard is like a faster way to get housing by cities or countries that really need it fast.

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  27:00

I think what TTF Toronto, there is one hospital where they get fed up, because there were many homeless people who went to the hospital. And when they get released from the hospital, the patients didn't have anywhere to go. So they basically to go back to the streets. So they got sick of this. And what they did is that they took some of the parking lot in the hospital area, and they start building permanent homes there. So in the summer, there should be 51 permanent homes in that parking lot. And then they will do evaluation study of one year. And then if everything goes by the book, and you know, people can remain in their housing, they will start to that same thing in the other hospitals in the city of Toronto as well. So I think these kinds of things, we need that, you know, when you realize that there is a problem, we can do something about those problems. We don't need all the parking lot, we can build affordable homes for people right there in the parking lot. The services are nearby because it's close to the hospital. So I think that's one of the things I have been really excited in the past six months or so, because that is scalable. There are a lot of hospitals, a lot of parking lots. So a lot of places to build affordable homes. And you know, charities certainly are biased. So I think it's a win win situation. In

Ben Kaplan  28:08

Finland. It's held up as a real successful example. But what has gone wrong? What have you learned from what is something that you didn't foresee or a problem or something that impeded the solution? What can we learn not only from the good, but from the challenge? Well,

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  28:22

I think when we started housing first in 2008, we will all about, you know, doing the systemic change, and renovating the shelters and affordable and the temporary accommodation into permanent homes. But I think we missed the prevention side in the first years. So I think that's something that we learned during the road. And and I hope that we have figured that out a little bit earlier. So it was you know, 2016, when we start really developing the prevention of preventive services, then again, of course, we've always had a really strong political will, behind ending homelessness and housing first been in the core core of that. And then now we have an quite new government IT CAME became in power last summer. And then of course, they have some things that they want to do so that they are cutting some social benefits, and they would like to build less affordable housing in the future. So I think there are some dark clouds ahead as well in Finland, and we'll see how we managed to tackle those those clouds that will arrive probably not this year, but in the coming years.

Ben Kaplan  29:24

In terms of governments stability for any program, particularly one that's going to take years to come to fruition. Like any organization, you need steady progress towards a vision, a goal and stick with it. Sometimes the political process doesn't allow that. Because you have starts you have stops you have people with different opinions, different agendas. What have you learned about that either in Finland or other places in terms of just managing politics because it's a charged issue? And you could take let's say a really good plan, but if you start and stop and this side wants it this side cuts it that any plan even if was a good plan might not work with all of those political influences. And this is a highly charged political issue in many places. So how do you deal with the politics of this?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  30:09

I think it was quite clever what what we did in the field in 2008, when we started, so it wasn't a four year plan for that current season, but it was a eight year plan. So type basic and wrote wrote the plan for the next government as well. So I think that really worked. And of course, when you start to get the results, because we have also made studies in Finland, that when you house people with the right kind of support, it also saves money on our long run. So of course, that helps. And that creates credibility to the program as well. And and you know, you get the political will, because of that as well, because we are able to show that, hey, we get people housing, that's the right thing to do in any any way. But actually, we are able to save some money for you as well. So of course, that has been a big, big deal as well. And then that has brought that there has been this political will. And in Finland, we have quite many political parties. And you know, of course, it's quite amazing that ending homelessness and housing first is probably the only thing that they have agreed. And that doesn't gave us a good backbone to do that work as well.

Ben Kaplan  31:15

How would you describe since you've traveled around the world, Europe's attitude to this versus the attitude? And let's say, North America, us? I don't know, if you've been to other places in Asia, or Latin American countries or African countries? What is your perspective on the world and their views on homelessness? Since not a lot of people do what you do, which is travel around and speak at conferences and see how programs are working? What have you learned about the global perspective and homelessness, similarities and big differences?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  31:43

Well, I think one other thing is that there is this momentum right now, and everyone are talking about ending homelessness. And let's say five years ago, people were talking about managing homelessness. So there has been this kind of new new language, which is, of course, very well come on, and people are trying to find the solutions to end homelessness. But regarding, you know, the public opinions, I'm quite, quite afraid at the moment, because in in us the public opinion, it's really hard to get as homeless people, I think, and then the, you know, it's like, they see that it's a failure of a person where, for example, we in Finland, we always think that, you know, it's a failure of the system, the society, when if someone becomes homeless, it's not their fault. It's the society's fault in many ways. So I think that's the biggest, biggest difference. And, and, of course, like I mentioned, that, you know, people don't want they don't want to have to dance on their, on their streets, I can understand that. But then they also opposite the housing, if you're a start building housing for the people, they don't want that theater. So it's like, basically out of sight out of mind. And one elderly lady in San Francisco, she she said to me, that you are if you come back to San Francisco, let's say 10 to 15 years from now, I know for sure that alga turrets will be homeless island. So you know, these kind of things, people get into their heads. And, and now, of course, the same attitudes are also in Europe, there are many, many right wing parties that are winning the elections. And that means that there are more people who also thinks the similar way that it's it's people's own fault that they're homeless, and we shouldn't tell up their money, you know, and these kinds of things. And one of the things that I'm really afraid of is that, you know, homeless, homeless becomes this kind of normality, that people don't care anymore. They become

Ben Kaplan  33:25

desensitized to it, you have enough and also that there's no hope. It's a hopeless situation. It's one thing if you have hope, or you if you think you can solve it, you'll work towards it. And it's maybe not easy. It's hard, but you'll keep going. The problem is, if you start thinking, there's no hope, then you say, what's the point? Why even bother? And these aren't problems that usually like if you just ignore it get better or magically go away? That's really hard. So the idea of hope, how do you keep hope, when a lot of places have been hit hard, and San Francisco is one of them? The state of California is another where you spent hundreds of millions, billions of dollars and you feel like you have nothing to show for it. People say what's the point? Well,

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  34:07

I think you know, for many years, Finland was the only country where the number of homeless people actually was going down. But now we have new examples, like you said, in the US, city of Houston, city of Dallas, Salt Lake City, these kind of good examples in Europe, we have Denmark, Sweden, Austria, where the number of homeless people are going down at the moment. So there are these, you know, beacons of light that we can see that when we just, you know, dedicate our mind to do the work, we can succeed. And then of course, there is the question of money as well. But I think for example, in California and San Francisco, you have spent a lot of money, but have you spent the money on right things? I think that's the key question. We probably would have need new money. I think we need to allocate the existing money in different ways. Where

Ben Kaplan  34:53

do you think it's been mis allocated? I don't mean the decision between do you spend on homelessness for something else in The budget or the city? Like where do you think is an ineffective or inefficient or wasteful spend when you're trying to solve homelessness, just trying to do it? And it just doesn't work very well? Where should programs be cut to fund other programs that do work? Well,

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  35:14

I think you always should think about if you're planning to build a new shell, there are temporary accommodation, that how many permanent departments we could build with this money? Or when we are cleaning streets, for example, or the encampments? How could we use this money to actually help these people instead of making their life even more miserable? In these actors? Is this the right way to use the police forces, for example? But I think the biggest question is how we are using that money to build new shelters, temporary accommodations, or affordable housing? Or should we buy those empty buildings, renovate them into apartments, start working with them? So I think these these are the biggest questions, in my opinion. And also, I think, in many countries, like we talk for just just moments ago, there has been no money to prevent homelessness. And I think that's been a big mistake.

Ben Kaplan  36:03

Well, and then to me, that's one of the most hopeful areas because it makes sense to a lot of people. And it's also a way that you can unite a lot of different factions, because it makes sense from the person's point of view the homeless person or family, right, if we can prevent, you know, check that that makes sense that they'd much rather have it prevented, it makes sense from the point of view of those who are the kind of budget hawks and say, We ought not have spent less, because this is where it's typically pennies on the dollar, if you can prevent it, versus what you're going to spend later. So that makes sense. And then for those that are kind of demoralized, about lack of progress, it can be real hopeful, because you can see it right away, you can see that if you prevent homeless, like, oh, this person would be there, this is what would have happened, we've done it, you can see progress. So that's why I think preventing homelessness could be such a unifier, because once someone becomes homeless, there's all of these political considerations, other factors, other priorities, but if you can prevent it first, a lot more of those factions that are going to disagree get more aligned. We just don't think about it

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  37:08

enough. Exactly.

Ben Kaplan  37:09

I totally agree. Yeah. Finally, do you have issues with I think the other challenge in this is sometimes a lot of money can be targeted towards it. And we've had many instances in the US of corruption, money that's supposed to go places that the organization's that it brings kind of demoralization is it's like oh, this organization is supposed to be their goal is to end homelessness or really solve it. And then you hear oh, there's been, you know, leaders of this organizations who siphoned off funds for their personal use, or, Oh, it didn't really go there. And so what's hard about that, and that's why I'm curious to your perspective, is that there's a lot of organizations doing a lot of good, but then there's organizations that are bad actors doing bad and people stop being able to tell the difference between the two. And it harms everybody. So have you had issues of corruption or waste? What have you dealt with it? And how do you separate the good from the bad?

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  38:01

Well, we have been a lucky situation that we've hadn't have any of those situations that there has been corruption within the field of homelessness and the NGOs working there. And I think Finland has been marked as you know, one of the most corrupt free countries in many years in a row. So we haven't faced those issues. And of course, it's sad for the good organizations, elsewhere, when when these things happened. And of course, the bad things, they get all the publicity as well. So the good work that some other organizations are doing, they don't get any visibility in the media. But if something bad happens, and there is corruption, it's immediately in the media. And there's a lot of debate. And of course, that creates the shadow over to the good organizations as well. But in Finland, I need to knock on the table. We haven't had those situations yet, at least, to wrap

Ben Kaplan  38:46

up. I'd love to ask you, if you were designated. I don't know what the position would be. I'm trying I'm trying to be like the Global Head of solving homelessness

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  38:54

global May. Yeah,

Ben Kaplan  38:57

I guess I'll use a un as example. You're the you're the Secretary General of ending homelessness. And you can do one thing around the world. You can say one thing that it's not like a magical position. So you can't wave a magic wand and homeless just goes away. But you have one day to do anything in countries across the world. What would you do if you could do one thing on a global basis for homelessness to improve things, leveraging everything you know, from Finland, and studying other places around the

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  39:24

world. I have just started building affordable housing. I think that is the main thing. All the places I have travelled, it has been quite many countries during the past two years period, all the politicians, all the decision makers, they regret that they have stopped building affordable housing, the city leaders, they regret that they have sold the land so the cities doesn't own the land anymore. So it's quite hard to build affordable housing. So that is the one thing that I would do immediately start building affordable housing and make sure that stays affordable as well.

Ben Kaplan  39:54

Thank you so much for joining us. Juha Kahila the Head of International Affairs at Y Foundation thank you so much for your insights and thank you for the good work that you're doing.

Juha Kahila - Unpolitics  40:05

Thanks for having me here. It's a pleasure.


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