No link between homeless villages and crime rates, guardian review suggests us news the guardian electricity use


They stood in a rainy parking lot under fir trees, 60 homeless men and women, young and old, patient and weary. The glow of a single lightbulb outside the “office” – a shack of plywood, duct tape and plastic sheeting – illuminated their faces.

It was the 9pm check-in at a homeless village called Right 2 Dream Too in Portland, Oregon. The code of conduct was read aloud. Then the roll call began: one by one, people showed ID and stepped through the chain link fence, towards portable toilets, bedrolls, warmth, sleep and safety. outside in america embed

Most people don’t associate this kind of order and security with homelessness. Indeed, homelessness and criminality are often conflated. But a Guardian investigation in two US cities where such highly organized homeless villages are common, Seattle and Portland, found that their presence was not generally accompanied by a rise in crime in their neighborhoods. In fact, crime was likelier to go down.

Villages were established at different times, and some are temporary or change locations frequently, so crime rate data was calculated based on different date ranges for each village. In every case, we calculated the maximum time period for which data was available after the village was established, and compared it with a time period of corresponding length for the same months of the year before the village was established. Date ranges are below

There is a distinction between these villages and the ad hoc, curbside agglomerations of tents and tarps that have come to symbolize the surging homelessness crisis in many cities across the western US. All these villages have the sanction, explicit or tacit, of officials, are largely self-governing, and have defined boundaries and codes of conduct.

Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle, which sponsors seven “tiny home” villages, including Othello, said the property used to be a “hot spot” – “a vacant, derelict, dilapidated lot full of trash and garbage [where] people would do their drug deals”.

Using Seattle and Portland crime statistic “dashboards”, the Guardian pulled crime rates for the neighborhoods in which Othello and the other homeless villages are located, comparing the number of incidents that occurred before and after their establishment.

Lee believes the the creation of an organized village engenders a psychological shift. People “literally cry when we show them that they can move into a tiny house and give up their tent”, she said. “If you go to a village and there’s food and you can shower and there’s a warm place and you can keep your place and lock the door, it takes away your need to hustle or commit a crime or go in a store and steal some food.”

Neighbors have noticed. “It keeps getting better,” said Manzil Pradhan, manager of Jim’s Market and Gas, a gas station and mini-mart next to Othello Village. “Now when I work here at night, it’s good. I can get out after midnight; I feel safe now.”

Camp residents also take measures to keep crime down. In Portland, residents of Right 2 Dream Too perform foot patrols. On a recent night, a man named Leo L, 59, carried a walkie-talkie and what he calls his “extra hand”, a picker-grabber to snare trash and cigarette butts. He never carries a weapon.

On occasion, camp residents are alleged to commit serious crimes. And in two Seattle neighborhoods, crime significantly increased after a homeless village was established: in the Georgetown neighborhood, crime rose 31%; and in Ballard South, it climbed 17%.

Experts aren’t certain of the reasons. In the Georgetown neighborhood, the assistant police chief Marc Garth-Green told the Seattle Times in December he wasn’t sure why property crimes had risen to fourth-highest in the city. In those areas, isolation and lack of social services could push crime up.

The crime data is grist for the mill in the debate over city-sanctioned homeless villages. San Jose and Oakland, in California, are ploughing ahead with them, while San Diego recently constructed huge group tents and Las Vegas is repurposing shipping containers.

“I don’t think it should be sitting comfortably for anybody in the wealthiest country in the world to say: ‘Yes, we should be creating semi-permanent shantytowns,’” said Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “But they can actually play a productive role.”

• The following date ranges were used in comparisons: Tent City 5: November 2012 – February 2015 compared with November 2015 – February 2018. Othello Village: March 2012 – February 2015 compared with March 2015 – February 2018. Tiny House Village: January 2013 – February 2015 compared with January 2016 – February 2018. Georgetown Village: March 2016 – February 2017 compared with March 2017 – February 2018. Licton Springs Tiny House Village: April 2016 – February 2017 compared with April 2017 – February 2018. Camp Second Chance: April 2016 – February 2017 compared with April 2017 – February 2018. Tent City 3: November 2016 – February 2017 compared with November 2017 – February 2018. Ballard Nickelsville: November 2012 – February 2015 compared with November 2015 – February 2018. Kenton Women’s Village: June 2016 – February 2017 compared with June 2017 – February 2018. Right 2 Dream Too: June 2016 – February 2017 compared with June 2017 – February 2018. Hazelnut Grove: May 2015 – September 2015 compared with May 2016 – September 2016.