Four Countries The United States Can Look To When Fighting Homelessness

This Feb. 29, 2016, file photo, a person covered in a blanket walks along a street, in Salt Lake City. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICK BOWMER
This Feb. 29, 2016, file photo, a person covered in a blanket walks along a street, in Salt Lake City. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICK BOWMER

ThinkProgress has dedicated a portion of our coverage on Wednesday, June 29th to reporting on the state of homelessness in Washington, D.C. This story is part of that series.

Homelessness is an issue for nearly every country. In recent years, the United States has increased efforts to end homelessness around the country. As the U.S. looks for new methods of handling the homelessness issue, here’s a few examples of how other countries have lowered homelessness rates.


In August 2014, homelessness in Tokyo hit record lows.

“Hiroki Motoda, a metropolitan government official, said support for the homeless offered by the city, including temporary housing provision and employment advice, had contributed to lowering the figure over the years,” the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.


While Japan’s homelessness issue is less racially charged, major American cities can take the lead from Tokyo — a metropolis with a population larger than New York and Los Angeles combined. The homeless population Tokyo is less than 700 according to government reports. Tokyo’s population is over 13 million (the greater Tokyo area has over 36 million residents) but in the Washington D.C. — where the population is 672,000 — there are more than 7,000 homeless people.


The percentage of homeless people in Denmark is less than 0.1 percent. Denmark’s ‘housing first’ policy helps keep people — and particularly the youth — off the streets. It also matches a strategy that certain communities in the U.S. are advocating for after initial success in Utah. “[T]he public housing sector is about twenty percent of the total housing stock in Denmark,” an essay published by the University of Maryland says.

The country also prioritizes policies and funding for homeless people. Denmark gave the homeless their own cemetery and in the third largest city of Odense, researchers track volunteers to try and figure out how to place infrastructure that benefits the homeless.


Singapore has “virtually no homelessness,” according to the Solutions Journal. In 1960, Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party (PAP) put together a Housing and Development Board to build 51,031 new housing units over a five year period. That legacy has lived on in modern Singapore, as government build houses were affordable enough for many residents to buy over the years.


“According to Statistics Singapore, 90 percent of Singaporeans own their own homes today and more than 80 percent live in government-built residential units,” City Lab reported.

The U.S. population could prove a stumbling block in repeating such a task but providing housing and supportive services for more than a half-million homeless Americans would still be less expensive than doing nothing.


In the city of Medicine Hat in Alberta, no person living without shelter goes more than 10 days before the government provides them with permanent housing. This project was started in 2009 and as of 2015 the city’s residents were almost entirely living in permanent housing. “We want to see if it’s sustainable before we announce that we’ve ended homelessness,” Mayor Ted Clugston told the Calgary Herald.

Clugston is a fiscal conservative, according to the Herald, and while he was skeptical of the plan at first, results have changed his mind.

“It makes financial sense. That’s how I had my epiphany and was converted,” he said. “You can actually save money by giving somebody some dignity and giving them a place to live.”