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Researchers gave homeless people money and what they did with it might surprise you

A nonprofit organization led a study that explores what might happen if people who are homeless are given financial support and the results may surprise you.

Foundations for Social Change, a Canadian charitable organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia, teamed up with the University of British Columbia for a social program, called the New Leaf Project. Researchers gave 7,500 Canadian dollars (approximately $5,717.27) via direct transfer to 50 people who had recently become homeless. The people were free to use the money as they saw fit with no restrictions.

To the surprise of the researchers, most of the recipients used the cash to turn their lives around. “Preliminary results show that on average, those receiving the direct cash payment moved into stable housing faster, maintained a level of financial security and stability over 12 months of follow-up, and increased their spending on food, clothing and rent,” said Foundations for Social Change in a press release Tuesday.

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“By empowering individuals to meet their own needs and move into housing faster, the 50 cash transfer recipients freed up space in shelters and saved the shelter system $8,100 (Canadian dollars) per person over the course of the year (for a total savings of $405,000).”

The results fly in the face of what many of us believe about people who are homeless — that if given money, they will spend it on alcohol and drugs.

Dr. Jiaying Zhao, the principal investigator of the study and a professor at UBC, told TODAY that she hopes the study will change perspectives and influence government policies. Zhao said she was approached by Claire Williams, the CEO of Foundations for Social Change, in 2016 about the unique project that would focus on direct giving.

“I had been looking at poverty reduction for a while,” said Zhao. “We came up with this approach: if the money were unconditional, would it reduce homelessness in Vancouver?”

The study marked the first time a cash lump sum was used in such a manner. Zhao explained that the amount was chosen because it’s the total of an annual welfare check in Vancouver.

“That’s how we decided on the number,” she said. “We want to change policy going forward and get better support for people who enter homelessness.”

The study told the recipients it was up to them how to spend the cash.

“We followed the people for a year,” she said. “The results are surprising. I did not expect people could move out of the shelter that quickly. I didn’t expect the improvements in food security. These are encouraging results.”

Zhao said that when it comes to people who are homeless, the focus is often on stereotypes. “The common assumption is they’ll use it on alcohol and drugs,” she said. “And we actually saw a 49 percent reduction in spending in those areas. That was super encouraging to see.”

Even more exciting was that some

Van Nuys dentist says nearby homeless encampments may force her out of business

VAN NUYS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Dr. Elizabeth Rojas says she wanted to invest in her community, but she says nearby homeless encampments may force her out of business and she fears her dream is now shattered.

“It’s just become a scary situation,” says Rojas.

She set up a dentistry office in Van Nuys where she grew up. She says the area is now surrounded by homeless encampments and it is not safe.

“They’re defecating, urinating but now it’s just become violent, it’s constant, they’re always fighting — they have machetes, they have knives, they have hammers,” Rojas says.

She says her security camera have caught people naked on the street, others armed with knives or screwdrivers, and two men breaking into her building. There is video of two people attacking someone on the ground.

“They’re fighting over ‘get my knife, she stole my drugs’ and they’re just attacking each other,” says Rojas.

This area is in the district of L.A. City Council President Nury Martínez.

“The County and our service agencies need to step up and address the severe mental health and addiction crisis on the streets,” she said in a statement.

The county says it can’t do it alone.

“Effectively addressing homelessness requires a complex interaction of many entities and, when we are successful, it is because willing partners have worked collaboratively to help people move from homelessness to housing,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told Eyewitness News.

The mayors office was direct saying, “No one should have to live in fear of violence, and Mayor Garcetti has been clear with the LAPD that while we should never criminalize homelessness, illegal behavior will not be tolerated on our streets.”

Rojas says she has called the city asking for help and despite what officials say nothing has changed. She feels it’s gotten worse. The city opened up a Bridge shelter facility just a few blocks away, but Rojas says the people on the streets won’t go there.

“I am empathetic to them, I see homeless shelters come out all the time and offer them services and they don’t want it. I don’t know what to do. Why should we bear the burden of having to see them do drugs in plain sight?” asks Rojas.

Rojas says she’s actually considering if it’s perhaps time to give up and get out

“We employ 10 assistants, hygienists, two other doctors. I’m at the point where I ask myself, should I leave? Should I just sell and get out of here?” I don’t know,” she says. “Take a loss and leave?

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This was to be the year for California’s homeless. Instead it’s a slow ‘train wreck’

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority outreach worker Monica Palma, center, visits with Kim M. and her dog Dee-O-G who live homeless under the Santa Monica Freeway along Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles on July 8. <span class="copyright">(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)</span>
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority outreach worker Monica Palma, center, visits with Kim M. and her dog Dee-O-G who live homeless under the Santa Monica Freeway along Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles on July 8. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The message wasn’t lost on Daniel Gonzalez.

Early in the pandemic, one of the first things Imperial County did to ward off the virus was close the public bathrooms and, later, public cooling centers. In this sprawling Southern California desert, where summer brings blistering triple-digit heat, that lack of access could amount to a death sentence for people without shelter.

People like Gonzalez, homeless the past two years, were simply not a priority.

Months into the coronavirus shutdown, Gonzalez, 47, felt lonely. Calexico’s quiet downtown had emptied out. July highs were topping 110, and it was uncomfortable wearing a mask in the swelter. But not having a place to rinse off or wash up, that was just a hazard.

Standing outside a closed restroom in Calexico’s Border Friendship Park, looking out over the complex of metal bars and security equipment that marks the U.S.-Mexico border, he waited for dinner. Every night at 7:30 p.m., volunteers assembled at the park to serve a hot meal to anyone in need. A few weeks before, pressured by the organizers, the county started dropping off hand-washing stations right before the meal, only to whisk them away as soon as it was served.

Gonzalez lined up. At least it was something.

This was supposed to be the year that California finally did something about its epidemic of homelessness. On Feb. 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom stood before lawmakers in the state Capitol, and delivered an unprecedented State of the State address devoted entirely to the homelessness crisis.

California is home to one-quarter of the nation’s homeless population, a grim distinction painfully visible not only on city sidewalks, but also along the state’s freeways and farm levees, in its urban parks and suburban strip malls.

Past administrations had mostly ignored the problem, Newsom said, but he’d be different. “It’s a disgrace that the richest state in the richest nation — succeeding across so many sectors — is falling so far behind to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people,” he told the crowd.

But even as Newsom spoke, a different epidemic was advancing silently across the state. Exactly one month later, he would order a far-reaching statewide shutdown, asking every person in California not working in an essential industry to shelter at home in an effort to stave off COVID-19.

It was a complicated ask for the more than 150,000 Californians without a home.

For two weeks in March, Newsom’s top homelessness advisor, Jason Elliott, gathered with academics, service providers and county representatives at the emergency operations center just outside Sacramento to confront the menace that COVID-19 presented for tens of thousands of people living outside, often without access to clean water or basic hygiene.

They pored over data

Work Or Online Learning? Homeless Families Face An Impossible Choice : NPR

Freda and her 9-year-old son visit the Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati. She and her five children have been living in the front room of a friend’s apartment, sleeping on pads of bunched-up comforters.

Maddie McGarvey for NPR


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Maddie McGarvey for NPR

Freda and her 9-year-old son visit the Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati. She and her five children have been living in the front room of a friend’s apartment, sleeping on pads of bunched-up comforters.

Maddie McGarvey for NPR

The closure of school buildings in response to the coronavirus has been disruptive and inconvenient for many families, but for those living in homeless shelters or hotel rooms — including roughly 1.5 million school-aged children — the shuttering of classrooms and cafeterias has been disastrous.

For Rachel, a 17-year-old sharing a hotel room in Cincinnati with her mother, the disaster has been academic. Her school gave her a laptop, but “hotel Wi-Fi is the worst,” she says. “Every three seconds [my teacher is] like, ‘Rachel, you’re glitching. Rachel, you’re not moving.'”

For Vanessa Shefer, the disaster has made her feel “defeated.” Since May, when the family home burned, she and her four children have stayed in a hotel, a campground and recently left rural New Hampshire to stay with extended family in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Her kids ask, “When are we going to have a home?” But Shefer says she can’t afford a “home” without a good-paying job, and she can’t get a job while her kids need help with school.

For this story, NPR spoke with students, parents, caregivers, shelter managers and school leaders across the country about what it means, in this moment, to be homeless and schoolless.

Vanessa Shefer (right) walks with her family along the Passumpsic River in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

Ian Thomas Janssen-Lonnquist for NPR


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Ian Thomas Janssen-Lonnquist for NPR

Vanessa Shefer (right) walks with her family along the Passumpsic River in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

Ian Thomas Janssen-Lonnquist for NPR

“How do you choose between working and … your child’s education?”

Remote learning can be difficult for children without an adult at home to supervise everything from logging on to the learning itself. The past six months have put all parents and caregivers in a bind, but many families who are homeless now find themselves in an impossible situation.

“How do you choose between working and providing for your family, and your child’s education? I mean, what is your priority?” says Patricia Rivera, a former Chicago Public Schools social worker and founder of Chicago HOPES For Kids, an afterschool program for homeless youth.

Rivera points out that many homeless shelters don’t allow parents to leave their children while they go to work. In the past, kids have simply gone to school or parents have found low-cost childcare. But, because of the pandemic, those options have disappeared for many families.

Parents and caregivers experiencing homelessness are also more likely to work low-wage jobs that cannot be done remotely