Researchers Discover Most Effective Way to Help Homeless Get Off Streets

Researchers found that by listening to homeless people and giving them a budget, they would be almost certain to find help.

It’s a question we’ve all considered at some point: What’s the best way to help the homeless community? Is it a good idea to throw your change into a beggar’s cup, or will he simply spend it on liquor or drugs? Should you write a check to your local shelter instead?

There’s no easy answer—but a UK-based nonprofit, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has come up with a surprising option that could help the homeless more than any of the current choices.

In a study, outreach workers found 15 homeless people, and simply asked them what possessions they would need in order to change their lives. One requested a pair of shoes and a prepaid cell phone; another asked for a camper van. They were given an annual budget of £3,000, which was used to purchase their requests and help out with other necessities. The gift came with one condition: The homeless people would need to work with a “broker” who would help them manage their budgets over a long-term basis.

The results were striking: Out of the 13 people who agreed to the terms of the study, 11 are now off the streets. Most are living independently, while others have returned to family members or entered drug treatment facilities.

So what makes this such an effective approach? The participants feel that they have more choice and independence than in typical charity cases. They’re able to choose where to meet the budget manager and to discuss their needs at length.

“We was meeting [regularly] to discuss it, and I’d actually gone from the stage of wanting nothing to do with these people, to actually looking forward to seeing them,” said one of the participants. “So it’s not just the actual money. It’s the way it’s being handled. All the people are dealt with as individuals.”

This approach may appear costly on an individual level, but if we could initiate a large scale trial, there’s no limit to the social progress we might see. The study will soon be replicated in London—here’s hoping it makes its way Stateside before long.