Two-thirds of homeless recipients in basic income program got housing – Business Insider

  • Nine of 14 participants were homeless at the beginning of a San Francisco basic income program.
  • They were given $500 per month for six months. 
  • By the end, six of them had found permanent housing.

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A basic-income pilot in San Francisco, California was meant to help fourteen residents attain food security and improve their overall financial well-being. 

What the team behind the program — called Miracle Money — didn’t anticipate was that six of the nine participants who were homeless at the beginning of the program would find permanent housing by the end of it, with the support of $500 a month for 6 months. 

“While one recipient was able to use the funds to fully pay for their rent, $500 per month was not enough to cover full rent for all recipients,” Julia Ip, Miracle Money’s Evaluation Lead, told Insider. “However, it was enough to help jumpstart the house-finding process or speed it up for many.” 

Basic-income programs like Miracle Money have been gaining popularity over the past few years across the world, especially as the pandemic caused financial strain for many low-income households. Insider reported in December that there are at least 33 other currently or recently active basic-income programs throughout the US. Basic-income programs differ from traditional welfare programs in that they come with no strings attached: Recipients can do whatever they want with the money, and don’t have to report what they use it for. 

Many, like Miracle Money, specifically target low-income members of groups that face increased financial hardship. California, for instance, provides funds for programs geared toward pregnant people and young adults transitioning out of the foster-care system. Another program in St. Paul, Minnesota, helps parents financially impacted by the pandemic. 

Miracle Money specifically seeks to help its city’s homeless residents, who often face obstacles when it comes to getting back under a roof. Additionally, San Francisco has one of the highest homelessness rates in the United States, and a UN report from 2018 found the city government’s treatment of its homeless population to be “cruel and inhuman.”

The team behind Miracle Money say that the no-strings-attached funding approach, as well as its “buddy program” that paired participants with volunteers for weekly calls and texts, are what helped so many of its homeless participants find permanent housing so quickly, providing both financial flexibility and emotional support. 

Tackling homelessness through basic income and social support

Participants in the pilot mostly spent the money on food and rent, the group found. But people also spent money adopting service dogs  supporting family members, and buying gas to drive to work and clothes to wear at the job. Some recipients were even philanthropic, one woman using some funds to buy food for neighborhood children and another donating cash back to Miracle Money. 

“I didn’t do it for you, I did it for myself to once again feel the dignity of being able to support the causes that I believe in,” the group’s report quotes her as saying. 

Miracle Money says that part of the reason recipients were able to secure permanent housing was that the extra cash helped them leap over prohibitive obstacles homeless people often face. 

One recipient stated that they previously could not qualify for senior housing because they did not have enough steady income, for instance, but was eligible because of their basic-income funds, according to Ip. 

Kevin Adler, the program’s founder, told Insider that the “social support” aspect of the pilot was also key to giving participants a community that helped foster long-term goals such as finding permanent housing. 

Everyone who participated in the program worked with a volunteer for at least three months, and to get the money they had to agree to continue that relationship. Some also received support from “Smart Money” coaches through a partnership with the San Francisco Department of Homelessness, who helped participants budget and set financial goals, which also paved the way to housing. 

“We heard from several recipients that having a friend to talk to about how they’re spending the money to reach their goals was helpful, and this in turn also deepened their friendships,” Ip said.