A privately-funded program to provide basic income to 100 California homeless people aims to study how the cash—plus one-on-one social support—can be potentially life-changing.
‘Miracle Money: California’ is being funded primarily by a $1.15Mil donation from Google.org and is being evaluated through a randomized control trial led by researchers at the University of Southern California. The pilot, organized by Miracle Messages, will distribute $750 each month for 12 months to 100 individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, San Francisco, and Oakland.
In addition, each participant will be matched 1:1 with a caring trained volunteer phone buddy for weekly calls and texts—and scores of volunteers are already participating from around the world. Miracle Messages has received over $2 million to launch Miracle Money: California.
The precursor, Miracle Money, first launched amid the pandemic in December 2020 as one of the first basic income pilots in the US to include social support. In its proof of concept study from the Bay Area, 66% of unhoused recipients (6 of 9) were able to secure stable housing as a result of $500 a month for 6 months. Recipients overwhelmingly used their funds toward food, housing, transportation, savings, storage, child care, medications, debt reduction, unexpected family emergencies, and other essentials.
In total, over $1 million will be distributed to the 100 individuals chosen for the new pilot, with the first cash payments currently underway. Miracle Money: California will then track multiple outcomes including housing stability, food security, mental and emotional health, and relational poverty.
Dr. Benjamin F. Henwood who directs the Center for Homelessness, Housing, and Health Equity Research at USC will lead the randomized control trial in order to evaluate the impact of social support with and without basic income.
“20 years ago the idea of providing ‘housing first’ to people experiencing homelessness and mental illness was not widely accepted; today ‘housing first’ is national policy based on rigorous research including a randomized control trial that demonstrated the model worked,” explains USC Professor Ben Henwood, PhD, MSW.
“Based on promising but limited pilot data, my hope is that science will again demonstrate that there are person-centered interventions that can address homelessness and alleviate suffering; to that end we will let the data speak for itself and be our guide.”
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The mechanics of disbursing funds to recipients who often do not have bank accounts or mailing addresses is being overcome by utilizing AidKit, a technology company focused on “delivering direct cash with dignity”.
“When we invest in our neighbors experiencing homelessness, offering even modest financial resources and supportive relationships, problems get solved and people get housed,” says Kevin Adler, the founder of Miracle Messages. “Miracle Money: California hopes to demonstrate that a little bit of love and financial support can transform lives, restore dignity, and help people get off the streets.”
AidKit will also save time for the Miracle Messages team, so they can focus on the critical relationships they are building with the unhoused communities they serve.
The Miracle Messages nonprofit has won awards for its unique work reunifying homeless folks with their families. To date, founder Kevin Adler and his team have helped reunite over 700 families. Caring volunteers have also been matched with over 250 unhoused friends, to provide calls and texts of support—more than 10,000 so far.
Visit their website to donate or volunteer at miraclemessages.org.
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