Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Guardian: Dispelling a myth on homelessness and cash gifts

"In 2002, the then San Francisco supervisor Gavin Newsom proposed legislation to cut welfare assistance to nearly 3,000 homeless people living in the city from $395 a month to $59 a month, and divert the budgetary savings toward shelters and other services. It was promoted with the name “Care Not Cash”.

Newsom’s campaign tied the unconditional payments to drug and alcohol abuse. As the San Francisco voter’s guide spelled out: “[H]omeless people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol end up spending their welfare checks on their addictions instead of meeting their basic needs.” The framing worked. The measure passed with nearly 60% of the vote, and Newsom used the publicity to propel his political career to San Francisco mayor and, ultimately, California governor.

Newsom’s framing was just a different iteration of an old message: it doesn’t help to give poor people money. As that thinking goes, the unhoused, Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” and those with substance abuse issues will just waste it.

The results of a new study in Vancouver, Canada, test this stereotype. Through its New Leaf Project, the charitable organization Foundations for Social Change gave people who have been homeless for less than two years a one-time deposit of $7,500 in Canadian dollars (about US$5,600). They also received coaching and workshops about spending. Other groups received the money and workshops with no coaching, while some received the training but no cash and no resources at all."
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