Unhoused Canadians Were Given $5,500 — Here’s How They Spent It

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 09, 2024

For years, the city of Vancouver has wondered what to do about the growing population of people experiencing homelessness living on the streets.

Finally, one organization decided to simply give several of them cold hard cash, and how they spent it has surprised many people.

The Foundations for Social Change Study

Foundations for Social Change is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those in need. And in 2018, they began a study in which they gave actual money to those experiencing homelessness.

Screenshot from the Foundations for Social Change website

Source: Foundations for Social Change

There were 115 people in the study, and they gave CAD $7,500 ($5,500 USD) to 50 people, while 65 others received nothing.

The Results Were Incredible

The first thing the study noticed was that the 50 people who were given the money spent 99 fewer days without a roof over their heads and 55 more days with a stable home.

People getting food at soup kitchen

Source: Canva

As well, after just one month, 67% were food secure, and were even able to save $777 (CAD) over the course of the year.

Those Who Received the Stipend Spent the Money Wisely

Many people assumed that the people who received thousands of dollars at one time would immediately buy liquor or drugs, but that is not what the study found.

A neighborhood liquor store sits in a mostly deserted shopping mall

Source: George Rose/Getty Images

In fact, it noted that people spent far more on rent, transit, and food, otherwise known as durable goods, and less than 1% went to tobacco or alcohol.

The Study Did Ask the Participants Questions First

It’s important to note that the Foundations of Social Change did ask the study participants a few questions before they were selected for the stipend.

Several tents housing people experiencing homelessness on a residential street in Vancouver

Source: @Facinghomelessness/Facebook

They reported that these questions were to “reduce any potential risks of harm (e.g. overdose) from the cash transfer,” so of course, those struggling with extreme addiction were not considered.

'Meet Ray'

The Foundations for Social Change’s study has released several videos so that people can meet those who got the help they needed from the money.

Screenshot of the Foundations for Social Change YouTube video “Meet Ray”

Source: @FoundationsforSocialChange/Youtube

In one YouTube video, the world is able to “Meet Ray,” and hear him explain that “the balance that was given to [him] was that stepping stone … to better [himself].” Ray said that he is now taking a computer class to start a new career.


This Isn’t the First Social Project of Its Kind

While Foundations of Social Change is certainly paving the way in Canada, they aren’t the first to conduct such an experiment.

Screenshot of the Foundations for Social Change YouTube video

Source: @FoundationsforSocialChange/YouTube

In fact, in Stockton, California, they started a similar project that gave $500 per month via a debit card to 125 people with low incomes. This program has reduced unemployment among the participants by 4% in just one year.


It’s More Than Just Money

Of course, money can help people experiencing homelessness buy food and find shelter, but, for many, it’s so much more than that.

Hands reaching for donated food

Source: Canva

People without homes often struggle with mental wellness, including addiction, anxiety, and depression. One participant explained, “I had panic attacks and anxiety. I was at the point where I had to take a pill for it.” But since getting the money they so desperately needed, they “haven’t even touched them in a while.”


All People Want to Feel Supported

There is a stigma that those experiencing homelessness do not want to be functioning members of society, but study after study has proven this is simply not true.

Man hugs two kids while holding the sign “Homeless I Could a Hug”/Man holding a sign that says “Will Work for Food”

Source: @OutYourMind/YouTube/Pexels

Just like those living in homes, these individuals are willing to work, need affection and support, and truly need to feel seen. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to changing their lives.


Relieving Vancouver of Homelessness Is Good for Everyone

The Foundations for Social Change wants to make it clear that this program can help hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the city who are experiencing homelessness.

Trash covers the street in Vancouver, Canada after a homeless camp was moved

Source: Reddit

And by helping them, it can also assist the city as a whole. For years, several streets have been covered by homeless camps, and by donating the money that people need, Vancouver residents can be of service to their neighbors and the city as a whole.


Foundations of Social Change Needs Donations

Because Foundations of Social Change is a nonprofit organization, they need donations in order to continue their work with those experiencing homelessness in Vancouver.

Elderly woman with woman in volunteer shirt

Source: Canva

Fortunately, the world has seen what they have accomplished and have the support they need from philanthropists and even ordinary citizens.


This May Be the Way Forward

The Economist famously wrote, “The most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them.”

Screen at a Ted Talk with a quote from The Economist

Source: @TedxTalks/YouTube

And while nonprofits like Foundations for Social Change have long believed wholeheartedly that these kinds of programs can make a world of difference, for the first time, the world seems to be listening.