A roof above your young head

Since 2015, Gothenburg has developed a Housing First strategy to combat homelessness. But after a few years of implementing the plan, one group with acute needs for support in fighting homelessness was identified: young people. 

Thus, Gothenburg became the first Swedish city to adapt the successful Housing First approach specifically to those under 27 years old. This alternative method adapts to the needs of young beneficiaries, both in the type of housing provided and through age-appropriate support.

A different perspective 

The standard Housing First approach aims to eliminate homelessness and achieve stable housing and social inclusion. The method follows a set of principles that puts housing as a starting point and a universal right.

Housing First for Youth is about returning to society
— Jenny Martinsson

Housing First for youth builds on this approach while recognising that the developmental stage of each young person can vary and will impact their needs. Homelessness’s impacts can still be mitigated by intervening early and with the proper support. 

“In the regular Housing First, it’s mostly about getting an apartment,” explains Jenny Martinsson from the Centre against Homelessness, Department of Housing and Homelessness in the city of Gothenburg.

“In contrast, Housing First for Youth is about returning to society, getting an education, a job, and being part of the community again.”  

The methodology provides young people with the tools to live independently one day. This can include reconnecting with family, finalising their studies and finding a job that will allow them to become self-sufficient. 

“Learn how to cook, shop for food, take care of their apartment, get their education, and find out what they want to do later. It’s all preparing for being an adult and part of the community,” adds Martinsson. 

Photo by Eric Ward

The Swedish system 

The situation in Sweden differs from many other countries, and Gothenburg is also a very specific case in the country. Generally, the rate of homelessness among younger people is relatively low. 

This success is the outcome of a combination of elements. “Sweden has robust social service and child legislation,” explains Martinsson.  

We don’t often see young people living on the streets as rough sleepers
— Jenny Martinsson

“We don’t often see young people living on the streets as rough sleepers. If the person can not stay at home with their parents, social services takes care of the kid by putting them into family homes or supported housing – ‘HBP homes.’” Many young people receiving the Housing First services in Gothenburg are part of these schemes.  

However, in 2018 the municipality identified a need to complement these social services by initiating the Housing First approach. 

Homelessness in Gothenburg 

Every year, the municipality collects data on homelessness and investigates what it looks like. This year’s figures show a reduction of two per cent of households experiencing homelessness to the lowest since 2015. 

It is particularly positive that the number of homeless minors continues to decrease, accompanied by a higher number of children living in apartments like any other.

Approximately 1,300 people considered homeless receive housing through the council in various short and long-term solutions that can be collective or in an apartment.  In addition, there is also accommodation run by the private sector and NGOs, so very few people sleep rough.

Sweden has robust social service and child legislation
— Jenny Martinsson

Homelessness is increasingly a housing problem. In the group of homeless people, there is now a higher proportion who have no social problems apart from the fact that they lack a home. This is particularly evident among women and families with children born abroad. 

A plan against homelessness 

The local government has been following a plan for working against homelessness since 2015. The programme specifies a clear division of responsibilities between the cities, committees and boards and underlines the importance of a close collaboration with NGOs, government authorities and property owners.  

Gothenburg © Dick Gillberg

The Homelessness Plan focuses particularly on prevention and securing the availability of housing. In more complex situations, the accommodation goes along with support. 

These apartments eventually enable homeless households to take over the lease and exit homelessness. And for the structurally homeless, the city invests in housing counselling.  

In total, 110 Housing First apartments are managed by the Property Management Department in the City of Gothenburg. Martinsson collaborates with NGOs while having an overview of the work on homelessness within the city.

Within NGOs, there are also independent Housing First apartments that the Gothenburg Property Management Department does not manage. 

Mutual learning 

Proof of the system’s effectiveness is that other cities are eager to try it out in their own context. This month, Gothenburg is hosting several other European cities, thanks to funding by the EaSI grant through the European Platform for Combatting Homelessness, a European initiative to end homelessness by 2030.

The city’s commitment to ending homelessness is visible through actions and results. Housing First can be a successful approach for homeless people, regardless of age.

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer