Direct Cash Transfers Programs Can Help Youth Sustainably Exit Homelessness

As housing costs have escalated across the country, many young people need serious investments to get stably housed and onto a path to thriving. When unable to live on their own, some young people can safely and reliably stay with family; indeed, the percentage of young adults living with their parents has increased significantly in recent years. Many young people, however, don’t have this option and face a range of adversities as they endure homelessness during a key developmental period. These young people are disproportionately Black, brown, and LGBTQ-identifying.

One solution may be offering direct financial assistance (“cash transfers”) along with other supports to youth experiencing homelessness. As COVID-19 worsens inequalities and disrupts many conventional shelter and program models, flexible, cost-efficient approaches like cash transfers grow increasingly salient. Chapin Hall, in partnership with Point Source Youth, is collaborating with New York City (NYC) youth, government agencies, and private sector funders to develop and evaluate a direct cash transfer program (DCTP) for youth experiencing homelessness.

What We Did

As a first phase, we conducted mixed method, multi-stakeholder design process to inform the development of a DCTP and evaluation. The research included (1) a rapid review of international evidence and U.S. studies on DCTPs, (2) focus groups with youth with lived expertise of homelessness, (3) interviews and focus groups with a range of other stakeholders, and (4) a co-interpretation workshop with stakeholders, such as young people, representatives from several NYC Government agencies, funders, and advocates.

What We Found

Our research and stakeholder engagement process led to the following key conclusions about how to develop an effective DCTP for youth experiencing homelessness:

  1. Center on youth, equity, and trust. Young people elevated the importance of centering the program on youth needs and preferences, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ youth who face discrimination and exclusion through existing systems.
  2. Boost housing stability and empowerment. Participants encouraged setting this DCTP up with clear and bold objectives: help youth sustainably exit homelessness and get on paths to thriving, according to the paths they choose. These objectives should inform transfer amounts, duration, and supportive programming.
  3. Adopt a flexible and simple approach. Youth experiencing homelessness have diverse needs, preferences, and circumstances. Allowing youth to choose between different payment mechanisms and supportive options facilitates better results for youth in diverse situations. At the same time, providing simple, integrated delivery systems and youth support teams makes the program easier and more efficient to implement.
  4. Identify and manage barriers to success. While common concerns about risks to giving money to people living in poverty do not play out, certain design and support decisions can reduce the risk of rare adverse events and can help mitigate the potential for cash transfers to knock youth off other public benefits or face costly tax implications.

What It Means

We now have the evidence and input from young people, topic experts, NYC Government stakeholders, and other partners to design a smarter, responsive DCTP to help young people exit homelessness and make creative investments in their own lives. This approach has the potential to add a game-changing tool to national, state, and community toolkits for ending youth homelessness.

Recommended Citation
Morton, M. H., Chavez, R., Kull, M. A., Carreon, E. D., Bishop, J., Daferede, S., Wood, E., Cohen, L., & Barreyro, P. (2020). Developing a direct cash transfer program for youth experiencing homelessness: Results of a mixed methods, multistakeholder design process. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Developing a Direct Cash Transfer Program for Youth