Emergency Cash Funding Can Prevent Homelessness

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Quinn Dombrowski

Can a small amount of no-strings-attached cash prevent homelessness? Yes, according to a new study by University of Notre Dame’s James Sullivan and William N. Evans. The study, published in Science in July 2016, suggests that a person who receives USD$1000 right when they’re about to lose their homes are more likely to stay off the streets.

This is the first study establishing that emergency financial aid actually reduces homelessness, noted Notre Dame News, the university’s official news outlet. For many years, critics argued that cash distribution would only postpone homelessness. “That appears not to be the case” said Sullivan.

The researchers tracked 4,500 people who called the Homelessness Prevention Call Center in Chicago between 2010 and 2012. The program distributes cash to those who are on the verge of homelessness. The people who receive funding usually have similar backgrounds: under normal circumstances they can sustain their lifestyles but are no longer able to due to losing their jobs, a death in the family, or an unexpected medical bill.

However, funding is not always available. So Sullivan and Evans, along with Melanie Wallskog, a grad student from Stanford University, tracked both the people who received the emergency funding (on average USD$1000) and the people who did not, although they qualified for it.

The researchers found that the people who ended up receiving the cash were 88 percent less likely to become homeless within three months of their call to the center and 76 percent less likely to become homeless within six months. “There is evidence that it’s a sustained impact up to two years later,” said Sullivan.

More than 600,000 people are homeless in the US alone. There are unofficial estimates suggesting that the actual number is anywhere between 1.5 and 3.5 million. The United Nations describes homelessness as “an egregious violation of human rights occurring in all countries, threatening the health and life of the most marginalized.”