The Impact of Direct Giving

Experimental evidence suggesting that unconditional cash transfers can be an effective solution to reduce homelessness

November 2021

Homelessness is a growing social, economic, and health crisis. A research team based in Vancouver, Canada, is tackling this crisis through the New Leaf project, a HIBAR research project investigating whether unconditional cash transfers can empower people to move beyond homelessness. This innovative intervention has the potential to reduce homelessness through an agentic approach beyond the provision of emergency services such as shelters and meal programs. This project is a partnership between Foundations for Social Change, a charitable organization that develops evidence-based solutions to advance social change, and the University of British Columbia.

The New Leaf research team conducted the world’s first randomized controlled trial examining the impact of unconditional cash transfers on individuals experiencing homelessness. In this trial, they distributed a one-time unconditional cash transfer of $7,500 to each of 50 homeless individuals in Vancouver, with another group of 65 as controls. The results of the trial demonstrate that the cash transfers led to significant improvements in housing stability, food security, savings, employment, and cognitive function, with no increases in spending on temptation goods. Based on a cost-benefit analysis, the cash transfer produced $600 net savings per person per year via reduced social service use. The research findings suggest that unconditional cash transfers can be an effective solution to reduce homelessness. Preparations for an expanded trial in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, are underway.

Key Takeaway Messages

  • Co-leadership has been an essential component throughout the project.
  • Cross-sectoral diversity was powerfully important for conveying results to key audiences.         
  • With good project design, academic rigor and practicality are compatible.

Watch the full webinar recording and a short video with key takeaway messages below. 

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Alice Hopkins

Alice Hopkins
Program Manager
Foundations for Social Change

Jiaying Zhao
Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair
University of British Columbia


Webinar speakers Jiaying Zhao, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, and Alice Hopkins, Program Manager at Foundations for Social Change, will describe how the research partnership developed and how the team applied advances in behavioural sciences, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics to demonstrate that direct giving is an effective tool to quickly reintroduce stability into people’s lives.


Watch the full webinar recording

Watch key excerpts from the webinar