What do the homeless need? Ask them.

Megan Cottrell

 Most every day, I struggle with the same question many city-dwellers do: If someone on the street asks you for money, do you give it to them or just pass by?

A study out of the United Kingdom is telling us something pretty surprising. Giving can work, but not just the spare change you have in your pocket. For giving to work, it shows, it has to be large, specific and continual. The results of the small study show that if the gift is right, it could just get that person from a street corner back into regular life.


The Joseph Rowntree Foundation did something pretty unusual. Instead of creating a one-size-fits-all program for homeless people to fit into, they cut the cloth to fit the individual. They literally asked people on the streets: What do you need?

The answers varied: sneakers, a prepaid cell phone, a comfy chair, a camper van. They were given the money to do exactly what they asked for with one condition: They had to choose a person who would check on their progress and help them stick to a budget.

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