There are more people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Los Angeles than anywhere in the United States, over 69,000 per the latest count. While well-documented and well-funded efforts are underway to place these individuals into housing, there is a demonstrated lack of programs designed to meaningfully address the joint challenges of social isolation and immediate financial need faced by people experiencing homelessness. This study examines the experiences of unhoused individuals in Los Angeles receiving support from a nonprofit, Miracle Messages, that is facilitating both a “phone buddy” program providing social support and a concurrent basic income pilot aiming to address these neglected areas of need for people experiencing homelessness. Through conducting qualitative interviews with program participants actively utilizing these programs, the study found that the relationships formed with volunteer “phone buddies” were largely marked by valued emotional support and perspective-taking. Additionally, the basic income funds were found to bring observable boosts in morale and self-determination through bringing them “out of survival mode” financially. While the findings certainly revealed persisting gaps in support for unhoused participants, overall the study suggests that social support and cash aid programs for people experiencing homelessness have a role in supplementing existing homeless services and therefore contributing to addressing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.
The “Miracle” of Cash and Connection: Unhoused Experiences of a Basic Income and Social Support Pilot Program
UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs