Karl Smallwood with Today I Found It, reports:
In 2005 a homeless man called Ted Rodrigue stumbled upon a briefcase filled with crisp $20 and $50 bills totaling $100,000 (about $123,000 today). Ted was then told by screenwriter Wayne Powers that the money was his to keep and do with as he wished, so long as he would allow a film crew to document the result. Rodrigue, understandably, jumped at the opportunity, leading to a somewhat controversial documentary- Reversal of Fortune.
According to an interview with Powers, the genesis of the documentary stemmed from his time in LA where he was frequently asked for money by the homeless, prompting him to ponder, “What would a homeless person do if I gave them a million dollars?” Powers was curious if such a substantial amount of money could change a person’s life for the better or if it’d simply make it worse. He took this idea to an executive … executives loved the idea, but weren’t exactly thrilled at the idea of paying out a million dollars, eventually talking Powers down to $100,000.
... With funding in hand, all Powers needed was a homeless person to give the money to. According to him, he picked Ted after filming several conversations with him and coming to the conclusion that Ted was a man who’d been dealt a bad hand and deserved a break for once.
Mostly homeless for about two decades when filming began, the then 45-year-old Rodrigue survived by collecting cans and bottles. On an average day, he noted he could make about $20 or so doing this- enough to buy himself food, alcohol, and cigarettes. On a good day, he could sometimes earn as much as $35.
... the filmmakers didn’t interfere with Ted’s life or his spending in anyway, merely observing and documenting his day-to-day life. They did, however, give Ted access to a financial advisor whose advice he was free to solicit or ignore as he chose.
So what was the result?
Soon after finding the money, news of Ted’s wealth spread to his associates in the homeless community who came to him asking for help. Being a generally nice guy, Ted kindly obliged, paying off many of his “friends” debts and providing for them financially. Around this time, Ted also met a woman who magically became attracted to him the moment she found out he’d acquired $100,000.
... About a year later, Ted appeared on Oprah in an episode entitled “Are You Ready for a Windfall?”
... It was on this episode that Ted sheepishly revealed that he’d spent or given away all $100,000 within 6-8 months of receiving it, and that he was, once again, homeless.
So to answer the question of what happens when you give a more or less drug-free, reasonably psychologically sound homeless person $100,000… pretty much the exact same thing that often happens when you suddenly give a non-homeless person a relative fortune compared to what they’re used to- as with many big ticket lotto winners, they often end up worse off or in the same state as before they got the cash, perhaps with a little depression added in for good measure, something of a Flowers for Algernon effect.
This cautionary tale teaches that if you’re a fool with little, you’ll be an even bigger fool with much. The lesson being that the greatest disadvantage isn’t being financially poor but being poor in wisdom. Wisdom is life’s greatest treasure.
“Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding. For it is better than getting silver and fine gold. She is worth more than stones of great worth. Nothing you can wish for compares with her. Long life is in her right hand. Riches and honor are in her left hand. Her ways are pleasing, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. Happy are all who hold her near” (Proverbs 3:13-18, NLT).