How Incentives can Help Accelerate our Fellow Neighbors to Help those Experiencing Homelessness

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged everyone on knowing how to adapt to the current “new normal” of life in March 2020. Unfortunately, for those experiencing homelessness on a day-to-day basis, it’s much worse. Imagine seeing someone who is experiencing homelessness and the mental illness they’re facing having to battle the virus that is unheard of and potentially dangerous. 

This poses a question for many Americans: How can I help contribute to ending the homelessness crisis? To provide new opportunities for gaining spending cash to help those struggling with homelessness is one of many solutions that can help those experiencing homelessness transition back into society. 

Although the numbers of those living in homelessness may seem to be increasing each day, there are several signs of progress made to help those receiving the necessary benefits such as food and shelter. The City of San Jose in the San Francisco Bay Area has tested a pilot program last year called “Cash for Trash” to incentivize and reduce some blight around local homeless encampments. The plan incentivizes homeless residents to pick up trash at encampments by providing them with garbage bags and a reloadable Mastercard City Key debit card.

For every trash bag participants pick up and bring to program officials, the city will add $4 to their debit card. These participants will be making up 20 dollars per day, which they can use to pay for essential items. The cards are designed to be maintenance-free, with minor restrictions on alcohol and tobacco purchases.

After a delayed launch in February due to COVID-19, San Jose officials say “Cash for Trash” will occur at 40 locations throughout the city. San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo explains that the city government has many reasons to implement this program to build a bridge between the homeless community and the city. Liccardo explains the value of implementing this program at the start of 2021, saying it allows the city, “To be able to provide a pathway for our homeless residents, our neighbors, to be a part of the solution.” 

A task force that the County of Los Angeles developed called the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) has implemented the Landlord Veteran Incentive Program (VIP) and the Homeless Incentive Program (HIP). These two programs have given landlords the extra push to compete against the tight rental housing market and non-subsidized renters. 

HIP and VIP assist families in two significant ways. The first way is that these landlords receive one month’s free rent from holding their unit and considering accepting a family with a voucher. The owner may even receive funds when the family moves out to prepare the unit for the next rental. The second way is that HIP provides the family with a listing of available units, preparation for the rental process, transportation to visit units, and financial assistance to cover the security deposit, utilities, and other move-in costs. 

Santa Cruz County also follows a similar path combating the homelessness issue, just like the City of San Jose at the start of June this year. City officials announced in March the rollout of a new landlord incentive program called the Rehousing Wave effort. The Rehousing Wave effort cost $8 million for the city, which the Coronavirus Aid also funds, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act. It aims in part to entice property owners to consider housing individuals who are experiencing homelessness and who have spent much of the past year residing in an indoor shelter at Santa Cruz and Watsonville veterans halls and six county-leased motels.  

The Santa Cruz Sentinel mentions that the rehousing program will offer a $1,000 one-time bonus to new landlords entering into a year-long lease. In addition, current landlords who build new apartments for at least a year can also get a $500 one-time incentive or another $500 if they extend their leases for another year without a significant rise in rent. 

The program also includes a risk mitigation incentive, which means that if the need arises, the county will exceed security deposits to pay landlords’ exceptional expenditures or rent losses linked to the tenant’s stay. Landlords may also expect guaranteed monthly rent payments from participating nonprofit groups, as well as a single point of contact for tenant problems, resident support services, and case management.

The incentive programs that were being tested by the City of San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles County have demonstrated success in helping those experiencing homelessness the chance to improve their lives back into society. These incentive programs have saved the three cities a lot of money in that the program had used only $10,000 of its $15,000 budget. 

Overall, these incentive programs have proven to be a success in major cities around California. Providing incentives to those experiencing homelessness could help quicken their time to transition back into society and other benefit programs. 


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