Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Improving prospects for the homeless with a budget course

6 Jun 2014 09:00 | Communication

The vast majority of homeless people are already in debt. Once they wind up on the streets, this debt is often increased by lifestyle fines for things like urinating in public. A budget course can help break this vicious circle. But how do you motivate homeless people to take such a course? This is the subject of research by HvA professor Roeland van Geuns in his professorship Poverty and Participation.

The vast majority of homeless people are already in debt. Once they wind up on the streets, this debt is often increased by lifestyle fines for things like urinating in public. A budget course can help break this vicious circle. But how do you motivate homeless people to take such a course? This is the subject of research by HvA professor Roeland van Geuns in his professorship Poverty and Participation.

For a budget course to be effective, the participant must be motivated. HvA Professor of Poverty and Participation Roeland van Geuns is conducting research on effective methods to motivate the homeless and is proving that it is indeed possible.

Poverty leads to tunnel vision

What about the image people have that the homeless do nothing to change their situation because they only think in terms of the quick fix? Roeland van Geuns explains: “Some homeless people face psychiatric problems, but these are certainly not the only problems. They all live in poverty and poverty does something to your thought process. When you have to watch every penny, your decision horizon becomes shorter and narrower. Homeless people are so focused on the here and now that they are unable to foresee the consequences of their actions, or how things could be done ‘differently’. Research even shows that poverty leads to a reduction of the IQ.”

Motivating the homeless

In order to encourage homeless people to take a budget course, you need to ensure that they have ‘space’ for it in their heads. This can be done through budget management: first someone takes over the payment of the fixed expenses and the person concerned receives a weekly living allowance. A team of researchers in the professorship is working with care organisation HVO-Querido to study how to further motivate the homeless. Van Geuns explains: “In order to motivate them, it is very important that the course ties in directly with their day-to-day needs; that the homeless person benefits from this immediately; that a step-by-step approach is taken to his problems – then the will is there. So don’t present a fictitious household budget of someone with a family home.”

Tying in support

It is also crucial that the budget course is embedded in the rest of the support provided. Therefore the professionals of HVO-Querido stay in close contact with the course leaders. They notify HvA-Querido when the homeless person in question does not attend, and they provide progress updates. The findings of Van Geuns’ research team tie in with a previous Canadian study; this indicates that these interventions are effective.

Roeland van Geuns is conducting this study with researchers Rosine van Dam, Joyce van der Wolk and Jeanine Klaver of the Centre for Applied Research on Social Work and Law of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Roeland van Geuns is a professor of Poverty and Participation. The results of the research will be presented at a large conference in November.

A budget course teaches homeless people how to handle money, set priorities and make plans.