Buddhadoor View: Solving the Hetupratyaya of Homelessness

There is a Pali word commonly used in several Theravada Buddhist countries to refer to a person who has chosen the homeless way of life: a anagarika, a homeless “. They are people who have chosen to embark on a life of homelessness out of spiritual conviction and out of a desire to follow the path of samaṇa (Pali. Ascetic). Yet people who find themselves forced into homelessness almost always find themselves in distressing and unbearable circumstances, especially those trapped in long-term homelessness. Homelessness is classified by the United Nations as a violation of human rights. The Buddhist theory of monastic roaming as a carefully considered choice is at odds with the contemporary definition as an experience of “not having stable, secure and adequate housing, and the means and capacity to obtain it”. (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner)

No one should accept the lack of safe and stable housing as a natural or inevitable part of human society. The UN definition of homelessness as the deprivation of a basic human right is far from new. Homelessness violates articles 1 and 22 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. In addition to the problem of not having a safe and secure shelter, homelessness comes with a host of additional burdens on the victim, such as social ostracism and stigma, exposure to dangers and harm. physical harm and being treated like a criminal.

Finland is a country that has taken drastic measures to tackle homelessness, although the crisis there is less severe than in many other countries, aiming to eradicate homelessness completely by 2027. This success does not didn’t happen overnight. Since 2008 Finland has adopted a national policy based on a “Housing First” philosophy, advocating that providing permanent housing should be the top priority in solving the crisis. Therefore, over the years, homeless shelters have been converted into comfortable and permanent homes, with staff employed helping addicts, facilitating life skills training and helping people find internships. from Canada The Globe and Mail the newspaper reports: “Housing First advocates say research has shown that stable housing for all has proven to be the most effective remedy, both in improving lives and saving money. (The Globe and Mail)

The Finnish Housing First model is based on a simple principle: give homeless people a home and there will be fewer homeless people. In other words, “All the work done for homeless people starts from the premise that the first support measure should be the provision of housing. Work can be organized using different models and providing different types of housing, but housing is always the top priority. (Housing First in Finland)

Housing First not only reverses the cause and effect of homelessness, but takes a holistic and compassionate approach to deliver a solution. It is the furthest thing from a simplistic or naive aspiration. It is, in a way, watching the hetupratyaya of what leads to homelessness in a society. In Buddhism, hetupratyaya is a Sanskrit term meaning “causes and conditions” or “causality” and applies to everything in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. (Buswell Jr. and Lopex Jr. 2014, 348) A certain result occurs when causes and conditions come together. By applying this principle to our lives and to our world, holistic interdependence becomes evident. Homelessness is no different. As Housing First advocates put it: “Defining homelessness in a broader sense helps to recognize and consider all the different pathways that can lead to homelessness. A person can become homeless for many reasons, such as drug addiction or illness, for example. A homeless person can be a young high school student or a senior alcoholic. (Housing First in Finland)

The result is a long term solution that saves money. As Juha Kaakinen of the Finnish development organization Housing First Y-Foundation explains: “When a homeless person obtains permanent housing, even with support, the cost savings to society are at least 15,000. €. [US$17,700] per person per year. And the cost savings come from using different services differently. (SRC)

Kaakinen notes that the cost of homeless people using services such as emergency health care, police and the justice system far exceeds the cost of people receiving adequate housing. Compare that with the most recent statistics on homeless spending released in England in October 2020, amid the pandemic: “Advice [in England] spent almost £ 1.2 billion [US$1.65 billion] providing temporary accommodation to homeless households between April 2019 and March 2020. This has increased 9% in the last year and 55% in the last five years. (Shelter) And of that sizable total spent on temporary housing by councils in England alone in 2020, 87% went to private landlords, rental agents and businesses.

England and most of its European neighbors have much larger populations than Finland *, and the number of homeless is therefore inevitably higher. However, comparing England’s short-term housing spending policy with Finland’s longer-term outlook on tackling homelessness and morals is clear: – not a safe haven or a hostel, ”Kaakinen said. (The Globe and Mail) The Finnish state policy (and political will) to ensure at least 25 percent affordable social housing in any new housing area also makes a difference compared to other European countries.

In a declaration on the fight against homelessness launched on June 21, the European Commission’s commitments identified factors that have aligned quite closely with Finland’s policy for decades:

No one sleeps on the streets without accessible, safe and appropriate emergency accommodation;
No one lives in emergency or transitional housing longer than necessary to successfully transition to permanent housing;
No one is released from an institution (eg prison, hospital, care facility) without adequate housing provision;
Evictions should be avoided wherever possible and no one is evicted without assistance for an appropriate housing solution, if necessary;
No one is discriminated against because of their homelessness status. (European Commission)

There are encouraging signs that the Housing First model is starting to be replicated outside Finland, notably in the EU, Asia and North America. Finland’s success has been to tackle the problem head-on, including the obvious fact that there are homeless people because, for complex societal and economic reasons, people have nowhere to live. It would appear that to achieve the European Commission’s definition of ending homelessness, policymakers and advocates would need to address the ‘root cause’ of homelessness, while taking a step back and examining the drivers. causal factors of this complex social scourge and source of suffering. The result has been less money wasted on private profiteers and short-term solutions, while the homeless themselves have a real opportunity to become equal stakeholders in society through compassion and enlightened values. government, the non-profit sector and the private sector.

* In September 2020, the total number of homeless in England was estimated at 242,070 when male and female households registering as homeless were combined, while in Finland the total number of homeless households was d ‘approximately 4,542 in the same year.

The references

Buswell Jr., Robert E. and Donald S. Lopez Jr. (eds). 2014. Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

See more

Homelessness and Human Rights (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner)
“Simply not an option”: How Finland is tackling the problem of homelessness (The Globe and Mail)
Housing is a human right: How Finland is eradicating homelessness (CBC)
Housing First in Finland
Homeless housing bill climbs to £ 1.2bn (Shelter)
Launch of the European platform to fight homelessness (European Commission)
Four graphics showing the state of homelessness in England (Inside Housing)
Report 2021: Homelessness in Finland 2020 (Housing Finance and Development Center of Finland)

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No Poverty: The Sustainable Development Goals and Buddhism

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