Tackling homelessness is one of the biggest challenges facing society. In the United States, over five hundred thousand people experience homelessness on any given night . In Canada, there are at least 235 thousand people who experience homelessness every year, with 35 thousand on any given night . But what would happen if you gave those people enough money to get a fresh start? That’s the question one researcher in British Columbia, Canada, asked herself. This prompted her to start the New Leaf Project, and the results were nothing short of uplifting.
The New Leaf Project
Foundations for Social Change is a charitable organization in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 2018, the organization partnered with the University of British Columbia to create the New Leaf Project.
The project included 115 participants. All of them ranged in age from 19 to 64 years old, had been homeless for at least six months, and were not battling any serious substance abuse or mental health issues.
Out of that group, the researchers gave fifty participants 7500 dollars. The rest of the participants made up the control group. The researchers then checked on them over the course of a year .
A Beautiful Surprise
The Foundation’s CEO, Claire Williams, said she was “beautifully surprised” by the results. The individuals who received the money spent less days homeless and had moved into stable housing after an average of three months.
They also found that participants managed their money effectively, and didn’t burn through it the way you might expect.
“We saw people retain over $1,000 for 12 months, which is remarkable in the Lower Mainland,” said Williams .
This is the average breakdown of how each participant spent their money:
Food and rent: 52 percent
Clothes and transportation: 16 percent
Other items (medication, bills, etc.): 15 percent
After just one month, nearly seventy percent of the recipients were food-secure. Perhaps surprisingly, spending on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs dropped by 39 percent. Williams says that these results challenge the public’s perception on people living on margins.
The New Leaf Project: A Cost-Effective Solution
While it may sound expensive to just start handing out money to people, the opposite is actually true. Williams says that giving these people the help they need is actually beneficial to Canadian taxpayers.
According to Williams, one homeless person costs on average 55 thousand dollars annually for social and health services. The New Leaf Project actually saved the organization over eight thousand dollars per person. In total, they saved over four hundred thousand dollars for all fifty participants for the year.
“The common belief is that the status quo is cheap… in fact, it is incredibly expensive,” said Williams .
Helping People Get Back on Their Feet
The project gave participants the opportunity to get their lives back on track. One participant, Ray, said he used the money to get housing.
Ray was also able to take a computer class so he could work toward his goal of becoming a frontline worker for people with substance addictions. He wants to be able to give back to where he came from.
“A seed can grow into an oak tree and I might one day be that important person that has that powerful voice.” 
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