Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This city will pay you to pretend to be homeless

Spending up to $10,000 to hire 100 "fake" homeless people for an evening might sound to some like an odd use of tax dollars in a recession.

But city officials say the "decoys" are needed to ensure the statistical validity of Toronto's second-ever survey of its homeless population.

Between 50 and 100 people - including students, actors, formerly homeless people and social workers - will be given $100 prepaid Visa cards to pose as homeless on the city's streets as volunteer surveyors try to count Toronto's real homeless population on April 15.

Read the Toronto Globe and Mail report here.

I understand the data quality reasons for doing this, but why not pay actual homeless people to fill the same role?


At 1:51 PM, Anonymous JonoVision said...

Straw men and righteous indignation go together quite well with the anti-intellectual, common sense, plain talking folk crowd. This is a case in point; the issue isn't in spending $5000 to have people pretend they're homeless (5% of the 100K budget for a homeless survey). The issue should be about the efficacy of doing this survey in the first place. I don't have enough information to decide that, but hey! not my city. Commenting on and casting judgement on whether it should be done in the first place is fair game.

Casting derision on a statistical research method should be left to those who understand how numbers work.

Putting "decoys" out in the field and assessing how many of them get approached by fieldworkers increases the validity and significance of the survey. It. Simply. Does. I could point you to a page that talks about experimental design, but really, I doubt you'd understand it. It was hard for me when I studied it (and used it in myown research) back in the day.

Which is the real point here. On the surface, this seems like an easy outrage to attack. "How dare they pay someone to pretend to be homeless when there are real homeless people out there!" they decry. The irony of this all is that the very same whiny voices you hear, outraged by this seeming misuse of money, are the very same who will normally complain about the homeless in the first place. Talk about arguing both side of the equation. A very thoughtful approach, that.

If you are uneducated in science, or mathematics, or experimental design, you really need to chill a bit and let those who do know a thing or two
those arcane issues do their job. No really, if you gave up on numbers or formulii or other complicated subjects in high school or university, you have lost your right to comment intelligently.

Notice I'm not commenting on spending $100K on surveying the homeless. That's an entirely separate issue. I can see both pros and cons to the approach, and am willing to let the experts in that field make their case.

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyday it seems that my little Californian town sees more and more homeless people. I guess if I were homeless, I'd come here to. The weather is so mild. But thankfully I have a job (for now) and a place to stay (for now) but statistics show that many of us are one paycheck away from homelessness. The rich just seem to be getting richer, and the poor, younger. It's not right, it's not fair!

I'm a photographer on a mission to change the world, starting with my community.

Check it out please:


PS Thank you for all that you are doing for the homeless!!

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