Is Cash the Cure for the Homeless?

The homeless may be more fiscally responsible than most people think.

That’s according to Columbia professor Christopher Blattman. Blattman wrote an op-ed in The New York Times today in response to the New York City Rescue Mission hindering the plans of a Chinese recycling tycoon.

Last week, Chen Guangbiao treated hundreds of New York’s homeless to a fancy lunch and promised each person $300 cash. But the New York City Rescue Mission said they were worried some of the folks would spend the money on drugs and alcohol and insisted Guangbiao give the shelter $90,000 instead.

Blattman said that studies show the homeless don’t waste money on drugs and alcohol; and it might cost less to give the homeless cash directly than to pay for the distribution of goods to the homeless .

“You have to believe that all of the other services are helping this person be 10 times better off before you make those kinds of decisions,” he said. “And when we do, we realize the stuff we often provide is so costly that we’re helping far fewer people than we probably could of, for far more tax dollars or aid dollars than we otherwise need to.”

Blattman talked to WNYC’s Amy Eddings.