Innovative Direct Cash Transfer pilot program for youth experiencing homelessness to expand to San Francisco

Chapin Hall guides development on this innovative intervention for youth experiencing homelessness

Through the power of evidence, Chapin Hall is consistently working to innovate programs and policies serving youth. In 2021, Chapin Hall and select partners – including youth who have experienced homelessness – created the country’s first Direct Cash Transfer (DCT) program specifically intended for youth experiencing homelessness. The Trust Youth Initiative: Direct Cash Transfers to Address Young Adult Homelessness was launched in New York City with a plan for the first phase to give 30 young adults (ages 18–24) experiencing homelessness $1,100 per month for up to two years to support investments in their housing and personal goals and a one-time transfer of $3,000 to support an exit from homelessness. The program is already producing positive outcomes in several of the initiative’s target areas and this summer, at the one-year mark, researchers will release a progress update.    

When building the Trust Youth Initiative, Chapin Hall experts and their partners anticipated that the New York City pilot program would lay the foundation for expansion to other U.S. cities. Now, thanks to a $2 million grant from Google that matched an initial $2 million investment from the City of San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), partners at Larkin Street Youth Services, Point Source Youth, UpTogether, and Chapin Hall will now be able to begin carrying out a similar program and evaluation in San Francisco.  

In San Francisco there are, on average, more than 1,100 homeless youth and many of them are in marginalized groups. Roughly half of homeless youth in San Francisco identify as LGBTQ and Larkin Street reports that about 50% of their clientele are Black youth experiencing homelessness. A 2022 Applied Survey Research (ASR) report summarized the organization’s San Francisco Youth Homeless Count and Survey and noted that 81% of youth respondents reported experiencing multiple episodes of homelessness and 45% reported their current episode of homelessness has lasted at least one year.  

Because housing resources for people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco do not mirror those in New York City, eligibility for the program will be determined differently. The San Francisco participants will receive $1,500 per month for 24 months and a one-time transfer of $4,500 to support an exit from homelessness. Cash amounts are determined by reviewing the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rents, scoping the current rental market and availability in the area, and consulting with more than 30 young people with lived expertise on a series of adaptations for the model. 

“We need a greater understanding of young people’s pathways through and out of homelessness if we wish to inform sustainable, systems-level change,” said Chapin Hall Senior Policy Analyst Sarah Berger Gonzalez. “Chapin Hall’s expert team is already analyzing qualitative and quantitative data from the New York City pilot program and we are working toward determining how direct cash transfers with youth-driven supportive services impact the lives of youth experiencing homelessness. This program places San Francisco among several innovators and sets precedent for other cities to follow suit, laying the groundwork for testing and scaling youth-codesigned interventions to address homelessness.”   

A Chapin Hall team will lead the research and evaluation portion of the San Francisco project as they are with the Trust Youth Initiative in New York City. Chapin Hall researcher Jasmine Olivier is the site lead in San Francisco.  

Berger Gonzalez is also part of the project team at Chapin Hall that created the Direct Cash Transfer Toolkit in collaboration with national policy expertise and young people with lived expertise. The toolkit provides timely analysis and recommendations with respect to designing and implementing DCT programs in ways that minimize the risk of benefit disruption or loss and maximizes benefits to young people. It is a vital resource for policymakers, practitioners, funders, and jurisdictions considering implementing a DCT program.