Effect of Emergency Winter Homeless Shelters on Property Crime

Greg Ridgeway

Objectives: We evaluate the effect of emergency winter homeless shelters on property crimes in the nearby communities. Methods. Every winter between 2009 and 2016, the City of Vancouver, Canada opened shelters to protect the homeless from harsh winter conditions. The city opened 19 shelters, but only five to nine of them were open in any one winter. Using the variation in timing and placement of the shelters, we contrast crime rates in the surrounding areas when the shelters are open and closed.

Results: The presence of a shelter appears to cause property crime to increase by 56% within 100m of that shelter, with thefts from vehicles, other thefts, and vandalism driving the increase. However, when a homeless shelter opened, rates of breaking and entering commercial establishments were 34% lower within 100m of that shelter. The observed effects are concentrated close to shelters, within 400 meters, and dissipate beyond 400 meters. Consistent with a causal effect, we find a decreasing effect of shelters with increasing distance from the shelter.

Conclusions: While homeless shelters are a critical social service, in Vancouver they appear to impact property crime in the surrounding community. Shelters may warrant greater security to control property crime, but the data suggest any increase in security need not extend beyond 400 meters, about 2 to 3 blocks, from the shelters.

Keywords: community design, homeless shelters, property crime, Vancouver

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