As an example, in Vancouver a lot of homeless services are located in Downtown East Side - a small neighborhood directly adjacent to some of the most expensive real estate in Canada. This is quite perplexing as British Columbia is a gigantic province and in theory there should be no barriers to moving the homeless services to dirt cheap land elsewhere.

Are there any major cities that have actually managed to pull this off? Probably not in the West but maybe in China or some other technocratic nation?

  • 5
    Hm - I guess countries where homeless people can legally be forced to go to some designated place are often also countries that don't have homeless people by definition. They are just "given a home" in some "re-education facility" or similar.
    – Hulk
    May 26 at 7:45
  • @Hulk the homeless can be legally forced to go to a designated place in the US. The only restriction is that they cannot be penalized for sleeping on the street if no alternatives exist. But said alternative can be in another city 50 miles away. May 26 at 7:47
  • 4
    Isn't the main barrier "homeless people are not near said dirt cheap land"? Or are we ignoring that one for this question?
    – Erik
    May 26 at 10:22
  • 4
    It's not about "could you move them there" but about "would they want to be there?". You could take them to the facility, but then what? If the land is dirt cheap, that almost certainly means there's nothing else of value there, so what would the homeless do there? Unless your "homeless service" includes free food, free clothes, free housing and a free chance to try and get somewhere with your life, what does it offer the homeless?
    – Erik
    May 26 at 12:24
  • 2
    That sounds very different from how "homeless services" are normally done, and might make for a more specific question. I'd add those details to the main question. :)
    – Erik
    May 26 at 13:17

Specifically wrt to Vancouver, there are some additional things to note.

  1. Canada is cold. Vancouver and Victoria less so. Much empty land is going to be inland and colder.

  2. There is a whole "poverty industry" around the DTES (Downtown Eastside, the place where concentrated homelessness exists) where some providers have a vested in keeping their clients and getting government $. One 20 staff job-help outfit, had, after 2 years and 1.5M$, found 3 permanent jobs for their cares. Another had just pocketed the $ and handed out jobs to their own family and friends.

  3. From the POV of the homeless, it is better to stick in one place that has services and a community of fellows (and illegal substances) rather than to go out somewhere out in the middle of nowhere that doesn't have the resources to cope with them.

  4. Vancouver, outside of the DTES, has a strong sense of NIMBYism. Whenever attempts have been made to relocate people out of the DTES, local neighborhoods have been generally mobilized to keep them out.

  5. The DTES homeless community is challenging in nature. These are not people experiencing temporary homeless conditions. Many have underlying addictions, trauma and mental health issues, along with obvious physical frailty - they couldn't do anything like farm or construction jobs. In earlier times, some might have lived in mental hospitals. Housing them without supervision and support has been problematic in the past. So you'd have to move your health care workers to that "cheap land".

  6. The DTES has also been called one of the largest reserves in Canada. Out of the 7000 or so long term homeless (this is a number about 10 years ago), not sure what the equivalent is now, many are First Nations. That brings its own challenges for the people in question, but also would be a public relations disaster if managed even more harshly.

So to some extent, it makes sense that, in the absence of coercive measures (which I don't think many people would support) the homeless are going to congregate in dense urban areas that already have them, can afford to care for them and are somewhat sympathetic to their plight, at least as a political platform for mayors.

It would also be political suicide for a mayor, or candidate mayor, in many such cities, Vancouver certainly being one of them, to adopt a hardline attitude against homeless people. It is just not what a majority of their constituents want to see done, although that same majority also doesn't necessarily want to spend tons of money "solving" the homeless problem (which might just pull in more from the rest of the country).

A city or country with a more unforgiving attitude towards the homeless might very well have less homeless, but that is a considerable change in worldview to make for many people.

So an uneasy equilibrium persists and you could have seen the same sentiments expressed in many locations 20 or 30 years ago, nothing much has changed. Certainly I recall the "homeless problem" when I lived in NY state and Paris.

Most of this analysis could probably be replicated in such districts like the Tenderloin area in San Francisco.

(Not that I, like many Vancouverites, have not had precisely this idea, but it is unrealistic when closely examined. It's a good talking point, no more. We'd do a lot better working on prevention and avoiding younger people falling into this trap)

  • I fully understand the situation in Vancouver (I lived there and seen it with my own eyes). But surely other countries could’ve solved this? I imagine Taiwan or China or some other technocratic country could’ve done it. May 26 at 17:24
  • By your choice of example, the bulk of your question seems geared towards "rich democratic" societies. If you wanted to ask about different conditions, Brazil would fit well on the "poor democratic" end of things. While "mid-level, coercive" China has a different approach, they limit internal mobility from the countryside, making urban centers less accessible to the rural poor and mostly accepting them as factory workers. I suppose they have no issues shipping them right back if homeless. May 26 at 17:32
  • @JonathanReez: Do those other countries actually regard it as a problem in need of a solution?
    – jamesqf
    May 26 at 17:34
  • @jamesqf it’s presumably a problem everywhere in the world but it’s only highly visible in Western cities like Vancouver or San Francisco or Paris. I’m curious to understand if any cities have managed to find a humane solution that also doesn’t waste government money on expensive real estate. May 26 at 17:36
  • 2
    only visible in Western countries? what about the shantytowns around places like Mumbai or Rio? May 26 at 17:53

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