A Home That Fits

Over 1000 people under the age of 25 in Helsinki are currently without a regular dwelling. A Home That Fits looks at solutions for youth homelessness through design methods.

Design is said to shine in wicked problems. Youth homelessness falls in this category. It benefits no-one, nor is it anyone's fault. Having to live without a home makes it difficult to commit to anything, including other people and one's own future. Homelessness is often behind poor credit history and health issues. Nevertheless, youth homelessness is on the rise. A youth seeking housing is often squeezed in between bureaucracy and authorities. The solution can only be found through experimentation and by changing the logic of the system.

The aim of A Home That Fits is that no youth is without a home in 2018. The project is run by the City of Helsinki's Youth Department, Design Driven City, the non-profit rental housing company Alkuasunnot and the national youth housing association Nuorisoasuntoliitto. The project is now applying for funding from the European Social Fund. A Home That Fits looks for new solutions for youth housing together with young people. The project uses design methods to investigate how empty spaces could be converted into housing and how youth housing improves the whole neighbourhood.

Project team

CIty of Helsinki's Youth Department
Leena Ruotsalainen

Nuorisoasiainliitto and Alkuasunnot Ltd.

Design Driven City
Pablo Riquelme



Project phases

The challenge of A Home That Fits is very tangible. More than 1,000 young people in Helsinki under the age of 25 are without a regular home. The project seeks to develop new, long-term methods to help solve the problem of youth homelessness. The project’s goal is to enable every young person in Helsinki to have a home of their own by 2018.

Because the problem is a complex one, the solution to it requires a collaborative effort. A Home That Fits invites all actors involved in youth homelessness to join forces. In addition to the City of Helsinki Youth Department, the problem solvers include the Nuorisoasuntoliitto youth housing association, the Y-Foundation and many City of Helsinki departments. These actors reflect on the problem together and share information.

Design is used in the project to find alternative solutions to youth homelessness through experimentation. Prototypes are used to tackle the problem from multiple angles. Young people themselves play a major role in the project. They join the project to develop new ways to find answers to youth homelessness.

Home That Fits is a project that produces new ways to act. The project is divided into four sections. In the initial stage of the project, all actions are built around experimentation.

1.Youth phenomena and youth groups

We first need to understand what youth homelessness means. We utilize research data, and we interview young people and others who work with young people. A youth think tank generates new ideas and alternatives for living.

2.The City and partners

How can the City solve youth homelessness together with private actors, different communities and the third sector? This stage involves various experiments: communal living pilot projects with the City of Helsinki housing company HEKA, and pilot projects to convert empty City spaces for temporary uses and to turn unused office space into residential space.

3.Influencing decision makers

In cooperation with young people, the project seeks to raise youth homelessness to general awareness and to public discourse with the Finnish Parliament and other decision makers.

4.Compiling information

How have other cities around the world solved problems related youth housing?

"I'm motivated by a sense of real impact, that something can be done and that young people are really heard. To not just be a decoration item."

The initiative "A Home That Fits" brings out the voice of young people through think tank style work.

The first meet-up gathered together ten young people from all over Helsinki between the ages of 15 and 22. A big concern in the talks was: Am I taken seriously? We convinced them that they are the key figures in our initiative, and that only together can we create new, successful structures to tackle youth homelessness.

"Public housing is hard to get, living is expensive and some don't get along with their parents anymore. It's a 'nothing to lose' attitude."

There are many reasons for the difficult housing situation of young people, and in all, the amount of reasons is overwhelming. Young people pinpoint these reasons easily. Their friends have had many good and bad experiences regarding housing solutions.

"Things can only change by caring."

Money is not a driving factor for young people to participate in the group. They clearly pointed out their wish to help other young people. Some wished to find a housing solution for themselves through the group.

"A good atmosphere."

Nobody wants to do something out of their own free will if it is not something fun, or if the atmosphere is not inspiring. The young participants also look forward to gaining experience through the housing experiments in the initiative.

"A Home That Fits" looks for answers to homelessness among people under 25 years of age in Helsinki. 

3 Ideas

The observation and background research helped to shape the problem further. The City Designer and the rest of the team were guided by, for example, the following thoughts:

- There is no single solution to a structural problem of such a huge scale

- The group of problem solvers needs to cross borders

- The aim is not a new process, but rather a new organisational culture and structure

- There is a clear wish for new practices

The question of youth homelessness was addressed through different alternative solutions by experiments and testing. The role of the City Designer is to support experimental methods and the ideation and construction of different action models. The task of the designer is to understand dependencies, established models, barriers of change, behaviours and social relations. New solutions can be found when the logic of the system is changed, for instance, through experiments.

An experiment-based project is no easy task for any organisation, especially for city offices that are stereotypically hierarchical and stiff. This is due to, for example, the following reasons:

- Experiments require boldness and tolerance to uncertainty.

- Experiments must be safe and easy.

- Experiments require preparation time.

- Experiments require strong commitment and clear ownership.

A Home That Fits has a clear home base at the City of Helsinki's Youth Department, a public office with an admirable organisational culture that is perfect for fostering a culture of experimentation.

- The organisation works together with young people: social skills and tolerance to uncertainty are inbuilt features.

- The management is highly committed to solving the problem and to benefit from the experiments: the organisation has set aside working hours for this project

- The organisation has a natural sense of empathy and an ability to understand the customer, meaning that they take young people seriously and listen to them.

- The organisation seeks out partners very boldly and actively: there is now a wide and committed network of professionals dealing with the project

In short, the ideation phase was successful due to a favourable working environment and supportive attitudes. As in many city initiatives, funding can only be applied for after the ideation phase. The budget for A Home That Fits was secured only in December 2014, so the ideation and planning steps were taken without financial security.

The most central ideas guiding the next phases in the project are:

- Let's forget about the huge structural scale of the problem and focus on smaller-scale solutions.

- Let's listen to young people and take them seriously.

- Let's use the experiments to prove to other organisations that making changes is not difficult.

- Let's bring the topic into public debate through the experiments. 

The action plan for A Home That Fits is based on five experiments, of which three will be started during 2015.

1) The company in charge of Helsinki's city rental housing, HEKA, will join to start a pilot on communal living through converting an empty apartment space into a housing unit. Converting business spaces and other empty spaces into communal living units for young people is a sub-project that is developed stage by stage.

2) The Youth Department's summer activity centre in Vartiosaari will host a test run on seasonal living. The trial combines three aspects: housing solutions for youth in difficult situations, vocational studies, and hobby activities. The young participants will work at the activity centre and reside in Vartiosaari over the summer. The work is a part of their curriculum at the Helsinki Vocational College.

3) Starting a trial combining communal living for senior citizens and young people. A new form of housing for both elderly and young individuals is planned together with the City of Helsinki's Department of Social Services and Healthcare, and with the Helsinki Diakonia College. The aim of the first year is to find a home for 30 young homeless people.

A City Designer will actively participate in each sub-project, with a role in finding new practices and understanding the bigger picture. Co-creation methods allow young people to participate in finding solutions, such as converting empty spaces into housing units, and researching how youth housing can enhance the whole surrounding environment. Design helps to understand which issues impact youth homelessness.

Two more sub-projects are still in the ideation phase, and will be updated on this page as the project develops further. In addition to the five experiments, A Home That Fits will be present at the following events:

13 April: A Home That Fits workshop for young people held at Laituri, organised by the City of Helsinki's Public Works Department

8–15 August: Our House festival for suburban living in the Helsinki metropolitan region

3–13 September: Helsinki Design Week events

17 October: Night of the Homeless, Helsinki 

5 Testing

The first three sub-projects of A Home That Fits have been kicked off in spring 2015. The results of the testing will be updated on this page.

In addition to concrete experiments, the initiative also runs other tests, such as co-creation with young people, roles of the partner network, and visualisation methods to address the problem. 

6 Execution and lessons

 
 

    A Home That Fits is shifting to the execution phase of experiments in spring 2015. We will inform more about the execution and lessons of the experiments on this page as the project develops further.

    The co-creation with young people was started in spring 2015 and it has found an active continuation together with the City Designer. The participation of young people has been very active when it became clear to them that they are being taken very seriously. Yet, the participation has also been seen as fun. Naturally, it is always wise to keep in mind how much commitment it is reasonable to expect from young people.

    Some opinions can already be made on the participation of different organisations, such as that the City of Helsinki's Youth Department's high level of initiative made it possible to include many expert participants to deal with the problem together for the first time. The culture of experimentation was a topic that was accepted positively from early on, and already the first meeting showed that making changes is not as hard as one might have perceived.

    A Home That Fits has started off with success, also regarding its aim to visualise the problem. The main participants (City of Helsinki's Youth Department, Design Driven City, the Finnish Youth Housing Association and rental housing organisation Y-Foundation) have announced their aims publicly and also made public the first three experiments. The initiative is also running in social media, and the project has gained visibility for the problem of youth homelessness in Finnish media (e.g. Radio Helsinki, YLE, Helsingin Sanomat).

    The project's lessons are updated as the project moves along. In spring 2015 we can 

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