In May 2009, a small experiment involving 13 homeless men took off in London. Some of them had slept in the cold for more than 40 years. The presence of these street veterans was far from cheap. Police, legal services, health care: Each cost taxpayers thousands of pounds every year.
That spring, a local charity decided to make the street veterans — sometimes called rough sleepers — the beneficiaries of an innovative social experiment. No more food stamps, food-kitchen dinners or sporadic shelter stays. The 13 would get a drastic bailout, financed by taxpayers. Each would receive 3,000 pounds (about $4,500), in cash, with no strings attached. The men were free to decide what to spend it on.