“I hope this becomes a proof of concept of how we can respond to need in the future. This is a good example of how social workers can lead.”
During the course, students met people who were once homeless and now help others rebuild their lives. One woman, who works for the nonprofit Homes For Families, introduced students to the cliff effect, which occurs when a pay raise at work triggers a disproportionate loss of government help. People who are subjected to the cliff effect suddenly become unqualified for subsidized food, housing, and healthcare, leaving them worse off than before their raise.
“I wanted to expose students to a diversity of thought,” said Werner. “From Day 1, we wanted to bring in people from the community with lived experience.”
After discovering the cliff effect, students said they reshaped their venture. Instead of giving debit cards to homeless people on the street, they decided to give them to people on the verge of losing their homes or moving out of shelters. The money on the cards would pay for basic needs, including food, gas, and clothes.
“Our new target audience is people who might be one paycheck away from homelessness,” said Diksha Thach, an international studies major. “We’ll be able to give people autonomy and break down some cycles of homelessness.”
The students plan to launch GiveCard in February, giving debit cards to 10 families and refining their model based on feedback. “Obviously GiveCard will not end all homelessness,” said Thatch, “but maybe we can help people out of it or prevent them from entering it.”
Although the class ended in December, the school plans to continue to work with the students. The specifics are still up in the air, but the ultimate goal is simple. “Give Card funds go up,” said Bailard, “and homelessness goes down.”
Werner wants to teach another section of the course. The topic will be different, but the principles will be the same: Introduce a diverse group of students to a social problem, connect them with community partners, and help them create a solution with people affected by the issue.
“I hope this becomes a proof of concept of how we can respond to need in the future,” she said. “This is a good example of how social workers can lead.”