Can giving money straight to homeless people truly help reduce homelessness?

Liz Zacharias, Senior Consultant at Campbell Tickell, discusses whether giving money to homeless people can indeed help reduce homelessness.

The New Leaf Project, an initiative in Vancouver that gave 50 recently homeless people $7,500 Canadian dollars (just over £4,000), and tracked them over the next 12-18 months, compared to control group, discovered that by receiving cash this group were able to access housing much faster. Notably, they saved the authorities $8,100 dollars per person ($405,000) – over one year in homeless shelter costs!

Rising homelessness and its costs

This study goes to the heart of some of the issues we are facing regarding the predicted growth in homelessness in the UK – due to Covid-19.

Despite the government’s attempts to alleviate rough sleeping with the ‘Everyone In’ initiative and the Next Steps fund, with redundancies set to increase, many will find themselves jobless and potentially homeless for the very first time in their lives.  This is a situation many never dreamed could happen.

Rough sleeping and sofa-surfing is costly in terms of mental health and instability.

Most people could cope with it for a short time but when prolonged, many will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Others will become physically ill due to a life on the streets and the inability to receive timely medical treatment. Someone who previously held down a job, even if on a zero hours contract, can find themselves with what we now call, complex needs related to rough sleeping, if they are not supported to re-establish their life with a job and a home.

Findings

The New Leaf Project focused on those who became homeless in the last 6 months and were assessed at low risk of developing mental health or substance misuse issues.

It demonstrates that for those with no underlying mental health issues or an alcohol or drug dependency, an injection of cash can make all the difference between rough sleeping and escalating problems, and re-establishing themselves as an independent citizen with agency over their own lives.

1. Practical help

Recipients knew exactly what they wanted to do with the money once given.

Some used it to support their move into housing, or getting a bike, or taking their cars to the repair shop so they could keep their jobs. Others wanted to purchase computers. Several wanted to start their own small businesses.

2. Stable housing – faster

Those given cash were able to find stable housing faster, on average. By comparison,  the control group lagged about 12 months behind in securing permanent housing and spent more time in homeless shelters.

3. Public savings

The cash enabled people to reduce the number of nights spent in shelters. Each individual saved approximately $8,100 Canadian dollars per person per year, or about $405,000 Canadian dollars, over one year, for all 50 participants in costs.


Our Youth homelessness study

The findings from this project remind me of our action research project with the Together Alliance[1].

An emergency support fund

Co-produced with young people with lived experience of homelessness in London, our research found that one of the clear asks was access to a small fund to support emergency and critical needs.

Swift access to such a fund, they felt, could make the difference between staying housed, getting, or keeping a job.  For example, a small injection of cash could pay for travel, buy suitable work clothes, or pay off rent arrears, or for a rent deposit.

Our research found that one of the clear asks was access to a small fund to support emergency and critical needs.

Many noted this would make more of a difference to their lives, than many other things a support service could offer, like counselling, or support worker time.

Of course, youth homelessness can only be solved through access to the affordable housing we all know is needed.

However, prevention of youth homelessness, many young people felt, could be achieved for some, if they could be supported to deal with immediate risks to their housing or job through access to such a fund.

Given the strong evidence above, these studies suggest it is time to take a radical new approach to tackling homelessness – one that focuses on helping people remove barriers.

 

To discuss this article, contact Liz Zacharias : liz.zacharias@campbelltickell.com or on Twitter @LizZacharias_CT

Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

Find out more about CT’s Health, Care & Support Services.  

[1] A group of housing associations and youth homelessness charities in London that came together to address youth homelessness issues in 2019.



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