One Danish City Turns to GPS Tracking to Help the Homeless

By Darren Orf on at

Without any context, that headline could seem incredibly scary, almost dystopian in nature. A city's most vulnerable residents tracked for unknown purposes would serve as a pretty good plot for some Orwellian nightmare. Luckily, the Danish city Odense doesn't want to harm but instead help.

According to CityLab and The Copenhagen Post, Odense has launched a small pilot program tracking 20 volunteers to gather data on where the homeless eat, sleep, and live all by just the GPS in their pocket. Once they have a good idea where many of its destitute are gathering, the city can provide shelters, benches, and "coffee rooms" to specific sites where they're needed most. The project's coordinator Tom Rønning says all the participants are very eager to help though the promise of three meals a day during the research period probably helps things. Spokesperson Kristian Guldfeldt also told The Copenhagen Post that the city plans to continuously launch the program ever six months to keep data accurate.

Although experiencing a rise in its homeless population according to a recent study, Odense is the third largest city in Denmark with little more than 170,000 residents. Whether a program such as this could scale to major urban centers, such as New York, which is currently experiencing a rise in its homeless population as well, is hard to say. Even though it's a completely opt-in program, the method still raises ethical concerns about the treatment of the homeless through meticulous tracking, but it's all incredibly benign when compared to other anti-homeless measures that have been adopted in other cities.

It seems Odense just wants to test an idea: if you can bring care and services to the people who really need it when they need it, what kind of city would that be? [CityLab]

Featured image: Homeless Vetaran on the streets of Boston by Matty 1378 via Wikimedia Commons