Colleen Sharkey | December 7, 2018
A new study conducted by researchers at the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame shows that emergency financial assistance for people facing homelessness not only reduces shelter entry, but also reduces criminal behavior.
Homelessness in the U.S. is a persistent and complex problem. Each year more than 2.3 million people experience homelessness, 7.4 million people live “doubled up” with friends or family for economic reasons, and many more are on the brink of homelessness.
Nearly every major U.S. city offers a hotline for people facing homelessness to request emergency financial assistance, and more than 15 million people call these hotlines every year. Linking call center information to arrest records from the Chicago Police Department, researchers found that total arrests of individuals declined between one and two years after a call for financial assistance in which they were successful in securing funds. For violent crime, fund recipients are 55 percent less likely to be arrested by police, with single individuals driving this decrease.
The decline in crime appears to be related, in part, to greater housing stability. Access to financial assistance significantly decreases arrests for homelessness-related outdoor crimes such as trespassing. However, the study also shows that financial assistance leads to an increase in property crime arrests. This increase is evident for family heads, but not single individuals. The increase is mostly due to shoplifting, and the timing of this increase suggests that financial assistance enables some families to take on financial obligations — such as apartment leases — that they are subsequently unable to meet.
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