Marni Soupcoff: Circumvent the bureaucrats and give cash directly to the homeless

Not only is it the most dignified method of extending aid, a B.C. study suggests it helps the homeless find stable homes faster

Article content

It is difficult to help the homeless because their immediate needs — food and shelter — scream out for attention, but meeting those needs does not in itself help them find and keep homes.

Perhaps soup kitchens and emergency shelters are necessary, because no matter how good society gets at assisting people with finding housing, there will always be someone who is hungry and freezing (or suffering from heat exhaustion) right now, and it would be inhumane not to try to relieve their suffering.

Yet crisis services are not long-term solutions and on their own they can serve to confine their beneficiaries to cycles of moving from the streets to shelters and back again, without ever establishing a permanent place to live.

Crisis services are not long-term solutions

What do the homeless need most? For starters, they need help that will leave them better situated for an extended time. What exactly does that help look like?

That differs from person to person. The homeless are not a homogenous group with a single set of concerns. They are people with varied family situations and goals, some escaping domestic violence, some battling addictions, some struggling with mental illness.


Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

Each homeless person can imagine a different path to a home. Whereas a homeless teenager might be focused on a set of courses that could set them up for a career, a homeless senior citizen might be intent on figuring how out to supplement their pension with new part-time work now that their spouse has died.

A homeless camp is seen in Light Horse Park in Edmonton on Sept. 28, 2020. Photo by Ed Kaiser/Postmedia News

The most effective way to account for the innumerable permutations also happens to be the most dignified method of extending aid: give the homeless cash and trust them to make the best choices with it for their own unique lives.

That is exactly what a B.C. research project did, and the results are promising.

The New Leaf Project — a study run by a Vancouver charity and the University of British Columbia — took a group of 115 homeless people and gave 50 of them $7,500 in cash, while leaving the rest of them to existing public resources. The fortunate 50 were chosen at random, winners in the lottery of social science.

Trust them to make the best choices

One year later, the members of the group that had been given the cash were better off. They had found stable housing on average two months sooner than their counterparts, and they had spent fewer total days homeless than the controls.

That might not sound surprising. Obviously, those with more money did better. But consider this: the cash group also made good decisions with their money.

They did not blow it all on drugs or booze. They spent most of it on food and rent. Their spending on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs decreased, on average, by 39 per cent. Some of them managed to save more than $1,000.


Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

If you are paying attention, you will have noted that 115 people is an extremely small sample size. And a further major caveat about the study is that it excluded people with mental illness or addiction problems, a group that makes up at least half of the homeless population.

Tents set up by the homeless are seen in Moss Park in downtown Toronto on Sept. 23, 2020. Photo by Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

But the project’s findings still suggest a truth forgotten by too many policy-makers: when you give a homeless person a form of help that allows them to maintain their sense of personal responsibility and make their own choices, they will often help themselves in constructive ways that would be beyond the reach of a generalized welfare program.

A competent homeless adult knows better than anyone else what they need. And contrary to popular belief, many homeless adults are competent. So, it is worth thinking about whether we should continue spending large sums of money on bureaucratic government or charitable schemes if a direct transfer of cold hard cash into the hands of the person who needs it is both more efficient and more respectful.

Inevitably some recipients would spend the money irresponsibly (that last word being a polite stand-in for “on things of which most of us do not approve”). But if even a good portion of the recipients used it to establish a safe home, the money spent would be a pittance compared with the money saved on medical care and legal interventions for those individuals — costs that go hand in hand with homelessness.

I am all for people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. It is just that sometimes they need the cash required to buy the boots before they can hope to use their hard work and creativity to keep themselves going.

As simple as it sounds, maybe doling out bills is the best long-term fix for homelessness — or at least an improvement on what we are doing now.

? Email: | Twitter:

More On This Topic

琪琪影院-电影大全 - 高清在线观看 - 海量高清视频免费在线观看