Can giving £4,000 to a homeless person truly help reduce homelessness?

The answer from a ground-breaking study in Vancouver might surprise you – and provide pointers for the UK


Image: Istock

Liz Zacharias

Senior Consultant, Campbell Tickell

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

The costs of rising homelessness

This study goes to the heart of some of the issues we are facing in the UK regarding the predicted growth in homelessness 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.


The New Leaf Project focused on those people who became homeless in the previous six months and were assessed as being 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. What are some of the other key lessons from the study?

  1. Practical help : Recipients knew exactly what they wanted to do with the money once they received it. Some used it to support their move into housing, or getting a bike, or fixing their car so they could keep their job. Others wanted to purchase a computer. Several wanted to start their own small business.
  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.

Youth Homelessness Study

The findings from this project remind me of our action research project with the Together Alliance – a group of housing associations and youth homelessness charities in London that came together to address youth homelessness issues in 2019. The project was co-produced with young people with lived experience of homelessness in London.

Our research found that one of the clear asks from young homeless people 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 fund a rent deposit. 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, many young people felt prevention of youth homelessness could be achieved for some, if they could be supported to deal with the 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 and trusting people remove the barriers they face”

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 and trusting people remove the barriers they face.

Together Alliance is publishing the above-mentioned report Housing Solutions for Young People Experiencing Homelessness in London on 30 November 2020. Look out for it under Insights on Campbell Tickell’s website soon.

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