Guest Commentary: How to Handle Homelessness – Give Them Money 

PC: Justin Sullivan via

By Mark Dempsey

Locally, and throughout California, there’s an awful lot of hand-wringing about the (growing) homeless population. Recent studies blame rising housing costs for most of the unhoused, yet the laser-like focus of our public policy officials has been on cutting red tape in building homes. 

I’ve even heard “environmentalists” say we need to set aside the CEQA restrictions on building so that new homes, tiny homes, or safe ground can take care of the unhoused.

What is never, ever, ever mentioned is the possibility that giving homeless people money might be a solution. After all, the U.S. has more empty homes than homeless, and San Francisco has five times the vacancies of its homeless population. 

Perhaps more homes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be as a solution.

But, leave it to the Canadians to come up with the “innovative” idea of giving homeless people money.

Remember, even the lower-class-friendly Democrats like Bill Clinton have reduced poverty programs. Clinton and Newt Gingrich managed to turn AFDC into TANF. TANF is a block grant, so states that make welfare difficult to obtain get to keep any excess not spent for other programs. With AFDC, 76 percent of those needing public assistance got it. With TANF that figure is 26 percent.

Before that, as Ronald Reagan was cutting taxes on the wealthy roughly in half, and with his successor raising payroll taxes eightfold, his administration also cut the affordable housing budget of HUD by 75 percent.

Before that, Richard Nixon stopped the federal government from building affordable housing. This is doubly significant because federal housing requests trump all the local barriers to building more homes.

The attacks on the poor have occurred over both parties’ administrations, and literally generations of public policy. 

Meanwhile, there’s the Canadian solution (from here):

“A core cause of homelessness is a lack of money, yet few services provide immediate cash assistance as a solution. We (Canadians) provided a one-time unconditional CAD $7,500 cash transfer to individuals experiencing homelessness, which reduced homelessness and generated net societal savings over 1 y(ear). 

“Two additional studies revealed public mistrust in homeless individuals’ ability to manage money and the benefit of counter-stereotypical or utilitarian messaging in garnering policy support for cash transfers. This research adds to growing global evidence on cash transfers’ benefits for marginalized populations and strategies to increase policy support. Although not a panacea, cash transfers may hasten housing stability with existing social supports. Together, this research offers a new tool to reduce homelessness to improve homelessness reduction policies.” (Emphasis added)

“Homelessness is an economic and social crisis. In a cluster-randomized controlled trial, (Canada addressed) a core cause of homelessness—lack of money—by providing a one-time unconditional cash transfer of CAD $7,500 to each of 50 individuals experiencing homelessness, with another 65 as controls in Vancouver, BC. Exploratory analyses showed that over 1 y, cash recipients spent fewer days homeless, increased savings and spending with no increase in temptation goods spending, and generated societal net savings of $777 per recipient via reduced time in shelters. 

“Additional experiments revealed public mistrust toward the ability of homeless individuals to manage money and demonstrated interventions to increase public support for a cash transfer policy using counter-stereotypical or utilitarian messaging. Together, this research offers a new approach to address homelessness and provides insights into homelessness reduction policies.”

Meanwhile, as an indication of how desperate things have become for poor people, dollar stores report rising theft rates…in stores whose goods cost a dollar.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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