Sep 4, 2009

World Bank Bums

Ever been to DC? Then you might have been surprised by the large number of homeless people. In particular, you may have noticed a group of homeless people living in the small park in front of the World Bank. It is somewhat ironic that the largest poverty-fighting institution in the world faces severe poverty on its own doorsteps. Everybody at the Bank or the Fund knows them, seeing them on the way to work (or from their windows) every day. I am wondering whether the Bank has ever tried to do something to help them, e.g. via initiatives such as “Pimp this Bum”. I am also wondering why there is barely any research on homeless people in the US or Europe, while there are tons of papers on poverty in Africa or Asia.

Why travel thousands of miles to conduct yet another wildly expensive field survey in Uganda or Indonesia, while so much remains to be understood about the most disenfranchised segments of our own societies? Put differently: Why not conduct randomized field experiments with the bums on Pennsylvania Avenue, instead of doing the 50th one in Kigali?

P.S. I have just found a small economic literature on homelessness (e.g. here), although none of it seems to be based on such detailed data as available to development researchers.


Laura Z said...
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Laura Z said...

reminded me of this

i think that the homeless situation is more complex then pure lack of splits, mental illness and so on so forth. if you ask some of them, they dont want to get out of the streets where they create their own families - at least I heard that from homelesses in Rio, and i dont want to generalize, but i think one needs more than econometrics to better understand this phenomenon (like psychologists)

but true, it also made me wonder many times what a sad and incongruent situation it is to be homeless in a rich country

ah, watch the Solist

Laura Z said...

just read now about the Pim a Bum initiative, good. it was exactly in an NGO like that, in Rio, that I learnt that some people are lost from their families and lives (due to alcohol, depression etc) and can be reunited / reinserted, while others seem to have found their "families" in the streets. this initiative u mention seems to be the way to go, no? what would you do a randomized experiment for, or how would it look like?