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Strategies for dealing with homelessness

We seek to address the issues and opportunities that present themselves there are some obstacles that must be overcome. The most immediate issue is a homeless population living on the streets and in open spaces. While their long term health and their lives are at risk, the homeless also have a negative impact on the economy of this area.

Addressing this issue is requires a sensitivity to three views that collude to undermine an effective effort to remove people from living  in public spaces:

      1)  The homeless don't deserve our help - this view is persists even among those who are homeless. The homeless are there because
           of poor choices they have made. This assumes that the homeless have had a power to choose that is, in fact, not often available to
           them. More often than not homelessness is the result of trauma inflicted on an individual who was powerless, and the view that                   this person got what he or she deserved really amounts to blaming the victim. 


      2) The homeless must be contrite before we can help them - They must make a sincere effort to overcome addiction, mental health
           issues and get a job before we give them assistance. For the poor this contrition requires a shame and despair that exacerbates the
           challenges of overcoming the barriers of re-entry into productive society.

      3)  NIMBYism - poverty is an inevitable consequence of our system. Much like industrial pollution, poverty it is bad; and we should be

           able to zone it to a part of the city where it minimizes its effect on the rest of us. Dehumanizing the homeless also exacerbates the

           challenges of overcoming the barriers of re-entry into productive society.

All three views present effective barriers to caring for the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised. Often these views ignore the costs associated with denying the poor with places to live. There have been many studies that suggest that the costs associated with untreated homelessness are much greater than the cost of providing the homeless with suitable shelter, and I think we must plan for treating homelessness based on this evidence. 

A more constructive approach to homelessness might also allow us to deal more effectively with other issues associated with crime, poverty, poor mental and physical heath and addiction.


Let's be clear; homelessness is the result of poverty. Lot's of people who are addicted, who have mental health issues or have criminal intentions are wealthy enough to afford homes. Very few of these people choose to give up their homes and live in public spaces. Homelessness is living with all the challenges and risks associated with being poor. Providing people with shelter is the first step in reducing those challenges and risks. To start, we need to provide barrier free shelter to everyone who needs it, and from there we can begin the effort of overcoming poverty.​

Overcoming poverty can be a very long process with little chance of success. Reducing the barriers to solvency and security would help many stay alive long enough to achieve that success. That said we can't expect everyone to succeed. On that long journey out of poverty many get stuck and just can't climb any further. We can't give up on these people either. They still need a safe place to stay, an opportunity to fit in, and maybe an opportunity to contribute something positive. Everybody matters and it's time we created a social safety net that was based on that proposition.


The study area has had a long history of supporting the less productive parts of the community, and attracting those who are isolated from economic development. For a long time Victoria Crescent was the de facto red light district. Now while the prostitutes have moved on, open drug use is common, sleeping on the streets at all times of the day and night is everywhere, petty theft and intentional property damage is a regular occurrence, and there is a relentless gauntlet of people begging for money. I know I sound heartless, but the truth is the homeless are not good for business. While I do have a concern for the health and wellbeing of the homeless, we cannot improve the retail and commercial part of our downtown without effectively addressing the issues related to homelessness. 

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First we need to provide safer and healthier alternatives to living on the street. I should point out that the problem is often framed as providing beds for the homeless. This is a very incomplete few of what the homeless need, which includes spaces to socialize, recreate and function as humans. While sleeping and living conditions might be minimal, people still need to function as humans not only at night, but also during the day. 

Also, specialized shelters that provide medical care or at least make medical care available would also be needed. These places might be located near the hospital.

Jail might also be considered an option. Homeless who are caught breaking the law or don't cooperate with social workers or first responders might be offered time in jail. Jail wouldn't be too much different from a shelter except that those in jail couldn't come and go as they pleased and would have to apply to the court to be released. They may also loose what ever stuff they own if the court orders it or if they are in jail for too long.

Finally, a level of affordable housing would allow those who are simply recovering from poverty a degree of choice over where to live and how to live. Affordable housing is one component of the solution to homelessness that the study area can contribute to. As well, there are spaces which can function as all day soup kitchens or dry bars where the houseless can gather during the day and meet other people. 

Once we are capable of providing shelter for all who are poor we need to pass laws which make it illegal to live on the streets or other public spaces. We might also make pan handling illegal (perhaps reduce the barriers to busk).

There is a great deal more to planning to accommodate the homeless, and the city has only a little jurisdiction, but effective planning and leadership from the city can go a long way towards getting provincial funding and then directing funding towards projects which achieve the greatest effect.

If this subject interests you, I might recommend reading  San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities by Michael Shellenberger. Michael has worked in this field for a long time, has studied European methods for dealing with homelessness and he makes recommendations appropriate to the North American context.

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