Homelessness in North America

Canada and the United States are supposedly among the world’s wealthiest countries. Yet many people in those countries are homeless, while at the same time many homes are left empty.

San Francisco

Ah, beautiful San Francisco! The Golden Gate City! The Hippie Mecca! But not such an idyllic place for the estimated 15-20,000 homeless. And yet there are 35-40,000 empty homes in the city — far beyond what would be needed to house all the homeless in comfort, if the institution of private property didn’t get in the way.

Now a Manhattan developer is planning to cram cash-strapped tenants into basement ‘sleeping pods.’ Jordan Levi tells the story here, on the website of the World Socialist Party of the US. Not that there is anything new about cramming lots of tenants into a small space, as Jacob Rees showed in his classic work on the tenements of 19th-century New York, where basement ‘bunks’ — sheets of canvas strung between wooden poles — were rented for 7 cents a night or 37.5 cents a week (not negligible sums in those days). Sometimes a bunk-tenant would turn in his sleep and fall out onto the man underneath.


On March 10, T.V. Ontario presented the documentary Vancouver — No Fixed Address, an expose of the housing crisis in that city, Canada’s most expensive to live in. It should have been sub-titled: A great place to live if you can afford it. Real estate prices have and are continuing to outstrip wages by leaps and bounds, so that many can’t live there and consequently move out of town. ‘I live in my van,’ said one senior, ‘because my pension is only $14,000 a year.’ Another interviewee had bought a rust-bucket of a boat and fixed it up as his home. A woman said she had dreamed of living near Stanley Park. Her dream came true when she married and two salaries were coming in. Her husband died and now she struggles to make ends meet. 

Obviously some folks must be doing well. They fall into two categories:

  • the real estate developers, who are the biggest donors to the local politicians campaign funds
  • offshore investors

The offshore investors are mostly wealthy people from China. Some live in Vancouver. Others use their property solely as an investment to be sold later at a big profit. Homeless people sleep on downtown streets, while speculators leave good homes empty. Most people don’t think of Vancouver as a manufacturing city, but as one real estate agent put it:

Vancouver is a manufacturing centre, we manufacture and sell condo’s, 90% are bought by investors who have no thought of living here permanently, but to rent or sell later. 


On March 13, Steve Clark, Ontario Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing, proposed new rules for the Residential Tenancies Act that would protect tenants from ‘renovictions.’ This is when landlords remove tenants during renovations in order to replace them with those who will pay higher rents after renovations are completed. Mr. Clark frothed on about how beneficial it will be to tenants, but Cole Webber, a legal worker with Parkdale Community Legal Services in Toronto, ain’t exactly buying it:

The Provinces proposed rules make it easier for the landlord to evict the tenants. The legislation aims to speed up eviction in two ways – the first is by limiting the ability of the tenants to defend against eviction by repair and maintenance issues at an eviction hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board. The second is that it empowers officers who are not adjudicators or Board members to issue eviction orders against tenants who they deem have violated the terms of the previous agreement with the landlord.

No, I think it’s about making it easier for landlords to evict tenants – displacing working class renters in the interests of landlords increasing their profits.

And back to California

Homelessness is becoming more common even among university students. In California some have asked the state government to open parking lots at colleges at night to help those who sleep in their cars, but were refused. A survey was taken by the New York Times about the problem in the golden state, during 2019. They found that 17% of college students experienced homelessness; 56% were ‘housing insecure,’ missing part of their rent or sleeping on friends’ couches; 4% spent some nights sleeping in their cars. It would cost the state $69 million a year to open parking lots due to security and sanitation expenses. The report did not add that when they graduate they would be saddled with a massive student debt. All this just to learn how to be a wage slave, which is what most ‘education’ amounts to under capitalism.

Main source: Monthly Report of the Socialist Party of Canada, prepared and circulated by John Ames