I used to live in a nice neighborhood. Unfortunately, the nice-ness was only surface level; to preserve it, the city officials would gather all the homeless people onto a bus and dump them outside city limits. It’s not one of the stereotypes you probably have about Canada. But people aren’t nice to the homeless anywhere.
Except, perhaps in Vancouver, B.C., where a charitable organization, Foundations for Social Change partnered with the University of British Columbia (UBC) for the New Leaf Project. This is a social initiative that gave homeless residents of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland $7,500 CAD (around $5,700 USD) and checked in with participants over the course of a year.
“It Challenges Stereotypes”
Those are the words of Claire Williams, CEO of Foundations for Social Change. “I had no expectations,” she says, “and really high hopes.” The project, which began in Spring 2018, was “a global first,” according to a press release from October 6th, 2020. The New Leaf project picked 50 people to receive the money.
The participants weren’t chosen randomly. People between 19-64, who had been homeless for 6 months, had no substance abuse issues, and no underlying mental health issues were chosen to receive the transfers. The project also followed a control group of homeless people who had not received any financial support.
Dr. Jiaying Zhao, a professor at UBC who was also a Principal Investigator for the project, says, the “individuals also demonstrated no major symptomology for mental health disorders, and showed a readiness for change.”
Homelessness By The Numbers
“The common belief is that the status quo is cheap… in fact, it is incredibly expensive,” according to Williams. The numbers she and the project give are staggering. The healthcare and social service homeless individuals receive cost about $55,000 CAD on average. The shelter costs per year are about $8,100 on average.
According to CBC, the financial breakdown of participant spending is as follows: “52 percent of their money [was spent] on food and rent, 15 percent on other items such as medications and bills, and 16 percent on clothes and transportation.”
“To prevent people from becoming entrenched in homelessness,” says Williams, “we need to provide meaningful support as close to the time of becoming homeless as possible. Our research shows that cash transfers allowed people to access housing faster, improving stability, and lowering the risk of trauma.”
On average, the people who participated in the program were able to find stable housing for themselves within three months. Comparatively, those in the control group averaged 5 months. Seventy percent had secure sources of food after one month. Additionally, average spending on substances like drugs or alcohol decreased by 39 percent.
“We saw people retain over $1,000 for 12 months, which is remarkable in the Lower Mainland,” says Williams.
The Program, From A Participant
The project “gave me a choice. It gave me a chance,” says Ray, no last name given. “The money gave me the resources I needed to get out of the shelter and push for the social programs and the computer class I needed.”