Researchers Defy Stereotypes about the Homeless

Image Courtesy of Elk Grove

Image Courtesy of Elk Grove

Anushka Elavia, Staff Writer

The long-standing stigma of homeless people –  irresponsible druggies who possess no incentive to take themselves out of their situations, is the standard stereotype used nationwide. Individuals commonly assume if they dish out some change for the homeless, then they will utilize that money for unhealthy purposes, like drugs or alcohol, instead of towards improving their conditions. This popularized theory was proven false by a novel Canadian study, called “The New Leaf project”. In this project, Foundations for Social Change partnered with the University of British Columbia, to establish the world’s first direct cash transfer program, empowering the homeless to take control of their circumstances. 

Although critics would demonstrate apparent disapproval, the researchers distributed a one-time cash transfer of 7,500 Canadian dollars (around $5,700) to fifty homeless individuals and tracked the recipients’ lives over 12 to 18 months, as compared to a control group of sixty-five people who did not receive the money.The prefatory findings suggested that those who received cash were able to find stable housing around a year quicker than those who did not, allowing them to combat homelessness. Furthermore, nearly 70% of the experimental group located and secured a sufficient amount of food within one month, a 37% increase from the baseline, while the non-cash group only increased by 2% during the same period. Contrary to the artificial stigma of the homeless’ spending habits, there existed a  39 % reduction in spending money on alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs. “One of the things that was most striking is that most people who received the cash knew immediately what they wanted to do with that money, and that just flies in the face of stereotypes,” said Claire Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Foundations for Social Change. 

Perhaps the most astounding finding was the drastic difference of days spent homeless between those with the means to afford proper housing, as compared to the unfunded group. Researchers uncovered a 28% decrease in days homeless, equivalent to around 4,400 nights saved from cold pavements and dangerous streets of solitude. Unfortunately, the control group experienced an increase from 64% to 78% in homelessness, demonstrating the boundaries of financial constraints. Homelessness does not discriminate, and economic uncertainty, uninsured health catastrophes, and family-related issues ignite the beginning of an unforeseeable future for several individuals. Over the course of twelve months, the cash recipients retained around $1,000, contrasting with the absence of any savings for the non-cash group. While Williams mentioned the study focused on a higher functioning subset of the shelterless population, she affirmed the significance of conducting these tests and how “[they] [are] having an exponential effect on people’s lives.” The challenging misperceptions that target the homeless population have been refuted by the studies of this project, and instead, illustrate how equipping the homeless with monetary resources enable them with the choice and nobility to independently move forward.