The Role of Cash in Empowering Young People Who Experience Homelessness

Can direct financial assistance with supports provide young people what they need?

New York City has the largest homeless population overall, compared to other cities across the nation, and the third highest number of unaccompanied youth. Further, a recent NYC Youth Homelessness System Assessment conducted by Chapin Hall highlighted significant system gaps in terms of flexible, effective, cost-efficient interventions that could be quickly deployed, either as a complement or alternative to existing shelter and residential programs for youth.

To help fill this gap in the City’s inventory of interventions, a collaborative team from Chapin Hall and Point Source Youth is working with young people with lived experience to develop a pilot cash transfer program. Rather than a one-off approach to cash assistance, Chapin Hall is helping to develop longer-term safety net approach. This involves providing regular cash payments along with supports, like financial counseling, housing navigation, and links to other services.

Internationally, cash transfer programs have become one of the most evidence-based and scalable interventions to help address a range of outcomes for vulnerable populations. These programs have been used for improving food security, education, physical and mental health, and reducing harmful coping strategies during crises. Previous research has also found little evidence to support common perceptions that cash assistance would be spent irresponsibly by vulnerable populations or would deter productive employment.

This work involves a multi-phase research and evaluation effort. It starts with qualitative research, evidence reviews, and collaboration with youth and other stakeholders to design an approach that best meets local needs. Once developed, Chapin Hall will rigorously evaluate a pilot’s implementation, impact, and cost-effectiveness. This work is beginning in New York City, but the methodology can be used to evaluate cash-based interventions for youth in other communities.

This is the first systematic effort to develop and rigorously evaluate a cash transfer intervention for youth experiencing homelessness. No one intervention or approach can end youth homelessness alone, but innovative solutions like cash transfers have the potential to contribute to more responsive systems to meet youths’ needs and population-level impact.

Our experts include Research Fellow Dr. Matthew Morton and researcher Dr. Melissa Kull, who work with a broad team of researchers and policy experts at Chapin Hall. For more information, please contact Matt Morton or Melissa Kull.