Homeless people in California were given $750 a month for nothing: what came of it - ForumDaily
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Homeless people in California were given $750 a month for nothing: what came of it

Can money put directly into the hands of people experiencing homelessness change lives for the better? A new California study on basic income shows it's possible. How $750 a month changed the life of a group of homeless people in California, the publication told USA Today.

Photo: IStock

Ben Henwood, a professor at the Suzanne Duorak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, partnered with the nonprofit Miracle Messages to give 103 people in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County $750 a month for a year. The six-month report is preliminary, but Henwood said the study's findings provide insight into how to tackle homelessness.

“Even though they have jobs, they don’t earn enough to afford basic needs, and they are being priced out of the housing market,” he explained.

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Miracle Messages CEO and founder Kevin Adler said the $2,1 million study was the result of a pilot program by the nonprofit that gave 14 homeless people $500 a month. In that study, donated funds enabled two-thirds of people to obtain housing, he said.

“We saw that most of the money was spent on housing and food security,” Adler said. “People used this money for family emergencies, child care and other basic needs.”

Henwood stressed that none of the funds allocated for this research came from the government. The study was funded by Google's nonprofit arm, Kimberly Lynch, Scott Lane, and the Homeless Policy Research Institute.

The new study involved more than 750 people, and 103 people were randomly selected to be eligible for $750 a month. The average age of the participants was 47 years, and 78% of them were members of minorities (categories of people experiencing relative disadvantage compared to members of the dominant social group).

“They were a lot like the homeless population of Los Angeles,” Henwood noted.

The research team determined that nearly a third of these people used the money for food, about 20% for housing, 11-12% for clothing and transportation, 6% for health care and 13% for other needs.

According to Henwood, these funds allowed people to be more creative: they fixed broken cars, paid off debts.

“It was all kinds of ingenuity, and it helped some people become more financially independent. They used these means to create a better situation for themselves,” he commented.

The biggest change was the number of people who left shelters and were able to find housing through the program. Of the 30% who started the program homeless, only 12% were homeless after six months. “The money has reduced the number of people experiencing homelessness, extended their time in rented housing, and increased their food security,” Adler said.

Guaranteed income programs throughout the country

Guaranteed income programs are not a new concept. Cities like Chicago, Stockton, and others provided residents with a guaranteed income that they could use as they wished, and quickly achieved results - people received resources and items that were previously unavailable to them.

“I hope this will encourage more widespread use of basic income as a way to help people living in poverty,” Henwood admitted.

There are at least 50 active basic income experiments in the United States, according to Stanford University's Basic Income Lab. The lab was founded in 2017 by philosophy professor Juliana Bidadanure to study the concept and related policies.

In the US Congress, Democratic Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman reintroduced legislation in September to create a federal three-year guaranteed income pilot program. If the bill is passed and signed into law by US President Joe Biden, the program would provide 20 Americans with a monthly income equal to the "fair market rent for a two-bedroom home" in their areas, it said.

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Adler said he hopes other local governments will take note of the results of the study and other pilot projects to legislate more guaranteed income programs.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 653 people are experiencing homelessness, a 104% increase from 12.

“We are spending hundreds of millions to fight homelessness, and the situation is not getting better,” Adler concluded. “If we can give money directly to people suffering from homelessness, and they use it better than we do, we need to rethink how we spend funds and solve this problem.”

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