Homelessness is a pervasive problem in many places but seems especially concentrated in some bigger cities.

Given that many cities struggle with providing support when the problem becomes acute, do some cities formally prioritize "residents", i.e. people who had been living there previously? The notion of "resident" is, I realize, somewhat problematic when people precisely do not have a fixed address.

For example, homelessness is both severe and a big political minefield for Vancouver, Canada. But it is often anecdotally claimed that the homeless come from all over Canada, possibly due to a less dangerous climate for sleeping out, possibly due to services being available. New York City or San Francisco will similarly see homeless as a recurring political football at a municipal level.

Since a lot of the impact and costs of homelessness are local by nature, have policies to prioritize long-term residents been either proposed or implemented by municipalities?

For example, giving priority to people who can show either a formal address or utility bills in the last 5 years?

This isn't really asking whether or not the homeless are from outside (which is always a good excuse not to help). That may very well not be true at all, but facts don't always stop bad policies from being proposed.

Several years ago, L.A.H.S.A. added a question to its homeless survey that captured how long a person had been in Los Angeles and where they became homeless. The resulting data dispelled the idea that the homeless population was largely made up of people from out of state.

I am also not looking for answers solely about the ethics of such an approach either, which do not actually give any examples of even failed political campaigns to effect such a policy. I suspect that is a huge minefield and can quickly degenerate into political sniping.

Just has this been done or proposed? Or ruled unconstitutional by some jurisdictions.

p.s. I know there have occasionally been the try at the reverse, for example paying bus tickets for out of province homeless to go back to their province of origin. Which... became a big political kerfuffle.

2 Answers 2


Yes - in England & Wales this is explicitly codified as a consideration that can be lawfully made in the Housing Act 1996 (as amended by the Localism Act 2011 and the Housing (Wales) Act 2014).

Section 199 of the Housing Act defines a 'local connection' as follows:

A person has a local connection with the district of a local housing authority if he has a connection with it-

  • (a) because he is, or in the past was, normally resident there, and that residence is or was of his own choice,

  • (b) because he is employed there,

  • (c) because of family associations, or

  • (d) because of special circumstances.

Section 81 of the Housing (Wales) Act contains an identical definition.

This definition of 'local connection' may be used by local housing authorities in England (section 166A subsection 5) or Wales (section 167 subsection 2A) to prioritise the allocation of housing accommodation to those eligible for it. Individual local housing authorities will publish their own policy on this - called an 'allocation scheme'.

For example, in Newcastle, to pick a city completely at random, their allocation scheme states:

You do not need to have a local connection with Newcastle to join the scheme, however, preference will be given to those with a local connection.

You or your partner will have:

  • Lived in Newcastle for six months in the last year. This does not include those whose only residence in the city is because of time spent living in a hospital or hostel accommodation.
  • Lived in Newcastle for three years in the last five years. This does not include those whose only residence in the city is because of time spent living in a hospital or hostel accommodation.
  • Been employed in non-casual employment or be training in Newcastle.
  • Have close family living in Newcastle, such as a parent or sibling.
  • Relatives or social networks in Newcastle that will provide support or care to needs.
  • Served in the armed forces but previously lived in Newcastle or have been discharged from the armed forces in the last five years.
  • Other special circumstances.

If you do not have a local connection with Newcastle you will be placed in Band D. In exceptional circumstances where there is an urgent need for housing this may be disregarded.

  • Excellent example. If I may ask, do the homeless in Newcastle generally find it helpful or unhelpful? Commented May 10, 2022 at 15:48
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I can't really give you much of an answer on that one - you could check out the city's 2019 homelessness review for more information on its strategy, though.
    – CDJB
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 16:01

It is not really stated policy, but EU rules have a consequence for handling homelessness that is not completely unintended, either.

The EU treaty guarantees freedom of movement for all EU citizens, and that is also true for the homeless - they have the right to live in any member country they choose, regardless of having accomodations. I have no figures for other big cities, but in Berlin it is estimated that of the roughly 6,000-10,000 people without housing, between one third and half are actually from Bulgaria or Poland.

The EU treaty also states that every member state is responsible to provide social security for its own citizens, and no state can be held responsible to provide for those from other countries. As a consequence, homeless people from outside Germany have a (theoretical) right to vote for the district (Bezirk) council, but are not permitted to reach out for help from the housing agency (Wohnungsamt) of that same district. Germans, on the other hand, would have a right to housing, and the district would be under obligation to provide them with at least emergency accomodations if they were not able to find some themselves. Same with social security payments: Germans have a right to a basic sustenance payment (Hilfe zum Lebensunterhalt) that non-German EU citizens are excluded from.

Since this problem came under public scrutiny, the districts tried to provide some social workers with appropriate language skills, but all they can do is help the homeless getting into contact with wellfare agencies in their home countries, and help with moving back.

Social security policies themselves are not subject to EU harmonization. The poorer countries, especially in eastern Europe, are not able to give that much support that rich Germany has at its grasp. Most of the time housing for the homeless is not readily available.

And so the repatriated are back to square one: would they rather live on the streets of Bucharest or Berlin? A significant number decide their chances of survival are better in a western European city and come straight back.

(If you are wondering why Bulgaria and Poland are so prominent for this issue: a - It is only 100 km from the Polish border to Berlin and the train from Warzaw runs only 5 hours, and b - There are a large number of mainly construction workers from Bulgaria in Berlin. They are formally employed by Bulgarian subcontracting companies and are payed Bulgarian wages, which are maybe a third of German minimum wages. Again and again there are cases where these companies just fold and disappear, leaving their employees unpayed and stranded.)

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