In discussions about prison reform, social welfare, and similar issues, Finland is often cited as an example of how things should (or at least could) be done. Now the latest example, according to this RNZ article, is how Finland has eliminated homelessness. They have accomplished this by doing what seems blindingly obvious: They have given homeless people homes.
Instead of shelters, temporary accommodation, motels, police cells, vouchers, or whatever, they have just built homes and put people in them. What a revelation! Instead of trying to offer different kinds of ‘support’, the Finns seem to have decided that what is really needed is just housing. Once that is sorted then they see what other support may be needed to keep vulnerable people in those homes. This approach seems to be working. According to the article, there are no more rough sleepers in Finland.
What strikes me about this is the very different way Finland seems to approach this and other social welfare issues. In English-speaking countries, including New Zealand, we seem to have a ‘blame’ culture. This is just my impression. I haven’t conducted specific research on it. But there is also an item on the same RNZ page about a beneficiary who committed suicide after being threatened with prosecution by MSD for fraud. And the MSD annual report loudly proclaims "where we find evidence of fraud we prosecute," which seems to jump immediately to a conclusion of criminal intent with zero willingness to consider any other possible moderating circumstance.
People are quick to blame victims here. Somehow, it must be their own fault. If you are in prison, if you are poor, if your children are deprived, if you are homeless, if you are on drugs, if you are a beneficiary, you only have yourself to blame. You have a weak character. You are mentally deficient. You are morally inferior.
So why should we spend our hard-earned money helping others who only have themselves to blame? They got themselves into their mess. Let them get themselves out.
Well, one reason might be that Finland has a far, far smaller prison population than we do, and their crime rate is also lower. So it costs them a lot less. Another reason might be that since they have given homes to the homeless, they have discovered that also is saving them money. Maybe if we could just get over our need to punish people, we might actually find that there is a better way of doing things. It is something worth thinking about.