Homelessness is growing everywhere in the "developed" world, and existing policy responses do not seem to have a decisive impact. If in countries like Finland (unique in Europe, however) o cities like Houston progress is being made. In other places such as Australia, homelessness has increased despite investment in specialized services.
It goes without saying that the general context, between job insecurity and inflation, is making things much worse. They are broadening the profile of those in need of care, with a particular impact on low-income people and single parents.
Could a universal basic income address the problem?
In an article published in the Journal of Sociology (I link it here) doctor Andrew Clarke assesses whether a universal basic income (UBI) could help fill the gaps in current policy responses to homelessness.
The article summarizes the existing research on the phenomenon of homelessness. And it highlights the limitations of current policies and how a universal basic income could help address them.
"Evidence shows that our current responses to homelessness are failing. We are investing more and more money in homeless services and yet, overall, the number of homeless continues to rise," says Dr. Clarke.
What do you need to do?
The general trend shows us that something different absolutely needs to be done in our approach to the problem. A universal basic income policy could be part of a new and more effective solution. It could help address some of the structural issues that lead to homelessness.
UBI, Universal Basic Income (or Universal Basic Income) it is a periodic cash payment that is disbursed unconditionally to all members of society, without requirements and regardless of their conditions. It is a political idea that is emerging internationally in response to worsening socio-economic insecurity, and several projects have been implemented over the past five years.
“UBI is an opportunity to transform the logic of welfare systems and begin to address the structural causes of poverty and homelessness. Coupled with other policies, such as rent controls and increasing the supply of social housing, implementing a universal basic income could make a difference,” says Dr Clarke.
Because our current policy approach cannot solve homelessness
In 2020 the OECD reported that there are about 1,9 million people who are homeless in the whole "developed" world. This has a profound impact on individuals and communities, placing a huge burden on our social services, health care and justice systems.
The current policies of almost all countries fail to address the problem of homelessness, because they are too concerned with providing targeted support (even expensive, or of technological efforts) and ignore structural factors.
The exact opposite of what the unconditional policy of a universal income represents, which acts at source aiming to satisfy the basic needs that everyone has, and prevent the very risk of falling into poverty.
Current approaches consider homelessness as a result of the personal circumstances of the beneficiaries (their family, personal, mental problems, etc.) but these are symptoms.
They are just consequences.
The main causes of any imbalance that produces homelessness are almost always two: economic instability and difficulty in accessing housing.
"Society currently regards the homeless as 'deficient', and thinks that if you need social assistance you are a failed person. Many of those experiencing this condition do not want to be identified in this way, and end up refusing even help them,” says Andrew Clarke.
How can UBI help address homelessness?
A basic income can help address homelessness (he's already proving it where it is tested) because it circumvents the stigma associated with need-based social care.
"Receiving payments from UBI will not be a stigmatizing experience because payments are offered to everyone," says Dr Clarke. “If everyone receives a basic income, no one can be considered different or deficient. Furthermore, if payments are universal, there is no need for a massive and inefficient bureaucracy that exists only to monitor people to make sure they only receive what they are entitled to".
A UBI can also support low incomes and address the insecurity that comes with intermittent and casual work, a growing reality for many individuals.
Basic income, key "don't leave it alone"
While on the one hand UBI can contribute to solving the problem of the income of the homeless, commitment is also needed on the other side: that of supply. First of all, we need to increase social housing: this will prevent a measure such as basic income from being "absorbed" by an increase in rental prices.
In summary: our current approach has failed. Our systems are marginalizing more and more people: economically, socially, physically.
Big cities are full of people sleeping in boxes, it's an intolerable drama.
Basic income must be taken very seriously, or it will be disaster.