Denver tests direct cash assistance for people experiencing homelessness
There are several different types of programs to fight homelessness around the Mountain West, but a new initiative in Colorado is the first in the region to test direct cash assistance.
Earlier this month, Denver City Council approved a contribution of $2 million to the Denver Basic Income Project, a community collaboration that's studying the effect of cash payments to those experiencing homelessness.
“Our theory is that providing an income for unconditional cash will provide an accelerated path towards stability and towards thriving for our unhoused neighbors,” said Mark Donovan, founder of the Denver Basic Income Project.
The initiative will provide $12,000 to 520 people experiencing homelessness over the next year. Participants will be randomly placed into two groups. One group will receive $6,500 up front and then $500 a month for 11 months. The other group will receive $1,000 a month for 12 months. A third group with 300 people — th e control g roup — will receive $50 a month .
Participants will also receive a phone with a year’s worth of service to facilitate communication with researchers, who will conduct monthly check-ins to gauge the impacts of the funds, Donovan said.
So far, the Denver Basic Income Project has raised $7.2 million for the program, Donovan said. Denver's $2 million contribution, which comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, is specifically for providing assistance to "more than 140 women, transgender and gender non-confirming individuals, and families in shelters," according to the city.
The project will begin accepting applications next month, and participants will be chosen randomly.
Donovan said the demonstration project is intended to build upon existing services for those experiencing homelessness.
“The ones that are providing wraparound services – mental health support, substance support – all of these players are incredibly important and necessary," he said. "However, we believe that the basic income will create stability and will accelerate the pace of the work that these great partners do and will enhance their impact.”
The approach has found success in other cities. Donovan points to the New Leaf Project in Vancouver, B.C. In 2018 , t he Vanco uver pr o jec t gave $7,500 to 50 individuals, and found that homelessness among participants dropped from 79% to 49% in the first month. Additionally, participants were 39 % less likely to spend the money on "temptation goods" such as alcohol.
Donovan said the project is not just about money, but about hope.
“We believe that the hope that is created by saying to somebody, 'We believe in you and we trust you and we're not going to tell you what you need in your life' … can possibly be as transformational as the cash,” he said. “The way we treat the individuals in our community that are unhoused makes a difference.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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