Ending Homelessness: Vancouver & Philadelphia Explore Different Paths

The bright lights of Vancouver high-rises shine like jewels in the twilight
Vancouver, B.C. photo by Corey Thompson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Vancouver, B.C. No wealth to see here. Move along. Move along.

Somebody must be making potfuls of money in Vancouver, B.C. Why else is it second only to Hong Kong as the most unaffordable city in the world?

Such a shame that a city with a river of gold running beneath its streets is so unable to tap this wealth. After world-wide demonstrations that people who are homeless can be quickly and relatively easily housed, as usual it appears to be a problem that Vancouver is unable to solve. Tent cities flourish.

Is it too expensive for a community such as Vancouver to solve homelessness? Studies from many countries indicate that the hard costs of housing people who are homeless and supporting them in housing is cheaper than the hard costs to community services such as hospitalization.1 That is, if the problem is left unsolved. Meanwhile, a pandemic has demonstrated that homelessness worldwide can at least partially addressed both rapidly and efficiently, using existing housing.

With a provincial election looming, we are told that Vancouver’s “hot button” issue is no longer housing affordability, but instead it has become all the dark horrors of crime.

What crime would that be that has so inconveniently raised its ugly head? Scratch its surface and its true nature becomes immediately visible. The crime is homelessness.

What a clever idea oozing out of Vancouver! Criminalize homelessness. The police can make it go away with tasers. Sanitary services can make it go away by confiscating criminal possessions in garbage trucks. The courts can make it go away by levying fines on those who cannot afford to pay them.

Alas, we search in vain for indications in other cities, in other countries, anywhere, that criminalizing homelessness, with all its futile aggression, does something, anything, to solve the problem.

If current attitudes are anything to go by, the citizens of Vancouver and the other levels of governments may well deserve their self-inflicted crime. But the people who are homeless certainly deserve better, even if it costs the city a scoopful or two from that river of gold.

Read more at the CBC: Why crime has replaced housing affordability as Vancouver’s biggest hot-button issue

Rather than pressing the crime button, leaders in Vancouver might look south and east to the City of Philadelphia, where there are discussions with housing advocates to create a land trust on vacant lots. The sites will provide temporary locations for the encampments and eventually be developed to housing. Read more at WHYY: Philly encampment organizers say they’ve reached a tentative deal with the city


  1. Try: Private Hospitals Invest In The Health Benefits Of Housing