Shelter from the storm (Dr. Anita Palepu, Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences)

After a day of heavy rainfall, the Downtown Eastside is strangely deserted. Apart from the soup kitchen lineup at the Carnegie Centre and the flea market hustlers along Hastings, the quiet is uncanny, as if the street people-who for decades have made this area one of North America's largest open-air dormitories-decided to … just head indoors, complying with Mayor Gregor Robertson's long-standing pledge to end street homelessness by 2015. “I guess everyone's staying in,” muses Dave Cunningham, a writer and activist who guides scientists studying the area's mix of the dispossessed and the desperate. “Homelessness is getting to be a lost art around here.”

Quantifying the costs of and savings from housing the homeless is an imprecise art, but according to Anita Palepu, an internal-medicine specialist who treats a steady flow of homeless patients at St. Paul's Hospital, “there's a sizable group of them who are very high users of emergency health care. And we know that when they are housed, the number of hospital visits is substantially reduced.”

Paul Webster reports

Click here to read more