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Clarity for the rules on emergency housing

Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin presents a proposal to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on renewing the guidelines on subsistence subsidy and specifying the legislation on emergency housing.

City of Helsinki was not in breach of law

The Deputy-Ombudsman examined three complaints regarding the emergency housing in the City of Helsinki in winter 2016. The Deputy-Ombudsman found that the City of Helsinki had created an arrangement for fulfilling the basic needs of illegal foreign immigrants. The City bodies or civil servants had not remained passive or inactive in relation to meeting the needs of the necessary caretaking of people in need.

The organisation or capacity of operation still seemed to have some shortcomings in winter 2016. The statement provided by the City was limited and did not enable a precise assessment of, for example, the number of emergency housing, turning people away in freezing temperatures, the capacity of outsourced services, or to what extent individuals had been directed to the services accessed through the crisis housing working group, child protective services or health care.

The Deputy-Ombudsman communicated her views on the general level to the City of Helsinki, to be taken into account in future operation. The Deputy-Ombudsman also stressed the importance of close monitoring and collecting statistical data on the aspects related to emergency housing and the services of the day centre. The need for shelter, sufficiency of services and development of services can be properly assessed only based on specific, factual data.

Need for guidelines and regulation

The Deputy-Ombudsman assessed the matter based on basic and human rights obligations, EU law and national regulations. Public authorities have a responsibility to ensure the minimum necessary requirements for a life of human dignity. In Finland, this public authority responsibility falls within the scope of municipalities' obligation to organise facilities. The municipality is responsible for acting and for organising and maintaining the ability to provide low-threshold services in case of emergencies.

In this case, only the emergency housing services of the City of Helsinki were under scrutiny. However, the matter may come up in any other municipality. For this reason, the Deputy-Ombudsman held that it is of vital importance that municipalities could base their actions on shared guidelines regarding this matter in any sudden or rapidly changing situation. It can be estimated that the need for emergency housing will be highlighted in the coming years.

In addition to proposing the renewal of the subsitence subsidy guidelines, the Deputy-Ombudsman suggested to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health that the Ministry should immediately start the measures for specifying the legislation on emergency housing.

In addition, the Deputy-Ombudsman made a proposal to the Ministry of the Interior to introduce necessary measures for regulating the state aid paid to municipalities outlined by the ministerial working group on immigration

The Deputy-Ombudsman requested the Ministries to report the action it will take by 31 December 2017.

The full text of decision EOAK/2834/2016 made by Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin has been published on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.

Further information is available from Principal Legal Adviser Pasi Pölönen, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3345.