Denver, CO

Denver homeless to be given $1,000 monthly for a year as part of experiment

David Heitz
(Alexander Mils/Unsplash)

A plan to offer people experiencing homelessness in Denver a basic income could help improve public safety. That’s because homeless people would be less inclined to break the law to meet their basic needs.

Homeless people have no money at all. That means they can’t even pay for essentials like toilet paper or tampons. It takes a certain amount of money just to live on the fringe. Women experiencing homelessness will tell you they often steal sanitary napkins because they believe they have no other choice.

The guaranteed basic income would help keep people experiencing homelessness from doing illegal or desperate things for money.

In a joint news release earlier this week, Denver Basic Income Project and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income announced a pilot program for Denver. “Homelessness, income inequality, a hollowed-out middle class, an alarming disparity in access to opportunity, and the challenges of mental health and poverty all stem from a lack of equity in our economic systems,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock stated. “The Denver Basic Income Project is an opportunity to explore how the philanthropic community and the private sector can augment public support for those living in poverty, particularly our unhoused neighbors, and extend that hand up to stability.”

The entire project will be studied and assessed by Denver University’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research.

“The research will analyze the impact of direct cash on speed to housing, wellness, income volatility, time use and numerous other factors,” according to the news release. “It will also compare the impact of upfront lump sum transfers vs. monthly transfers.”

The money will begin to be distributed this summer. Some people will get $6,500 up front and $500 per month for a year. Some will receive monthly stipends of $1,000, and a third control group will get $50 per month.

Would income just be drug money?

If I had received a guaranteed basic income on the street, I would have spent a great deal of it on cannabis. I am a medical cannabis cardholder with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. When I am triggered and use marijuana, I can remain calm and level-headed.

My doctor strongly supports my use of cannabis. On the street, however, I had no money for cannabis. I refused to panhandle or “fly a sign.” I never asked anybody for anything. Without my cannabis, I often felt extremely aggravated and unsafe. This would lead to run-ins with police that usually ended poorly. I ultimately ended up in the state mental hospital after being jailed a couple of times while triggered and belligerent.

PTSD is common among people living on the street. Many homeless people medicate their PTSD with cannabis but struggle to pay for it.

Transportation is a big issue, too, for people in Denver experiencing homelessness. Public transit is not cheap, and fewer and fewer homeless organizations are passing out free bus tickets. A basic income would mean homeless people would have bus and train fare and could get around better to apply for jobs and services.

Many homeless people are addicted to hard drugs, such as heroin or crystal methamphetamine. No doubt a guaranteed basic income in the homeless community would translate into more dollars in drug dealers’ pockets. But the guaranteed basic income would mean the addicted would feel less inclined to do dangerous things for their next quick fix, such as stealing or prostitution.

Recipients making ‘good choices’ in other cities

Similar programs in other cities don’t seem to be resulting in increased drug use, according to the news release. “Direct cash transfers empower individuals with dignity and provide the choice to make spending decisions that best suit their needs,” according to the news release.

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s proving out in other communities that individuals largely make good choices that result in increased well-being, greater financial stability, and new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal-setting and risk-taking.”

People end up homeless due to many oppressive factors. Some groups are at double or triple the risk of oppression. “The Denver Basic Income Project recognizes that people are disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers,” the news release states.

“The multiple struggles and intersecting oppressions the unhoused face are simply unacceptable in a just society.”

Seed money coming from Denver entrepreneur

The Denver Basic Income Project began with seed money from a Denver entrepreneur who admitted to watching the struggle on the street get worse as he became richer.

“Our society can do better,” said Mark Donovan, Denver Basic Income Project founder. “Direct cash payments move toward eliminating wealth inequality and begin to build a healthier community here in Denver and hopefully we’ll create a model for other cities to follow.”

Private donations are being used to fund the stipends. "The Denver Basic Income Project is a powerful example of what can happen when the private sector, government, and philanthropy come together to co-create solutions to complex challenges," says Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of The Denver Foundation, in the news release.

"Many people in our community need resources to overcome deep, systemic issues that lead them to homelessness in the first place. Basic incomes will create a lifeline for stability, economic opportunity, and wellness."

Denver Homeless Out Loud, an advocacy group for people experiencing homelessness, supports a guaranteed basic income. “Results from earlier such studies have shown some encouraging results,” Benjamin Dunning, a spokesperson for Homeless Out Loud, told News Break. “With the advancement of technology automation of tasks means less labor for us all, that does not mean that we need to starve as a result.

“We have been in communication with folks wanting to do a basic income study. In that regard I think we are just part of a larger circle of folks they are talking to in order to be informed enough to select appropriate candidates for their study.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO

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