Denver, CO

Here’s who might qualify for basic homeless income

David Heitz

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Ever since the announcement a few months ago that some Denver people experiencing homelessness will receive a basic income as part of an experiment, questions about who, when and why have been persistent.

“The Denver Basic Income Project is here to show how we can change the narrative,” according to its website. “We’ve all seen how privilege can compound positively, and disadvantage can compound negatively. The Denver Basic Income Project is here because of people who have lived this story.

“One person was handed a clear path to success and one person was handed a rocky road with barriers. Until their paths crossed again. It’s a story that shows the incredible power of a basic income to prevent someone from falling into the welfare trap. It’s a story where humanity, dignity and respect are an equal and greater part. And where generosity, kindness and love have immediate and transformational power.”

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.

Entrepreneur Mark Donovan spearheads project

The Denver Basic Income Project is led by founder Mark Donovan. “When COVID hit in 2020, Mark started giving $1000/month direct cash grants to 10 individuals and was profoundly impacted by the way it immediately changed lives and also boosted his sense of making a real difference in a great time of need,” according to the Denver Basic Income Project website. “He has generously seeded the Denver Basic Income Project and challenges every single member of the Denver community to give what they can to allow the program to thrive and reach as many people as possible. Mark is a Denver-based entrepreneur and philanthropist. He received a B.A. in Economics from Harvard and is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School.”

The Denver Basic Income Project is in the process of raising money to distribute. Organizations such as Denver Homeless Out Loud and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless have begun solicitations, along with many other of Denver Basic Income Project’s partner groups.

According to Jessica Sherwood, a representative of the Denver Basic Income Project, there are 15 partner groups from which people will be selected for basic income. But how will it be decided which homeless people receive the money?

How basic income recipients will be screened

Sherwood told NewsBreak that people applying for a basic income will be screened for:

Age. Recipients of the funds must be 18 or older

True homelessness. They must meet the McKinney Vento definition of homelessness (for adults). Essentially, they must not have a place to sleep at night.

Participants must undergo substance abuse and mental health screening. A positive screen will not necessarily disqualify someone from the program, Sherwood said. “We will be using the Basis 24 screening,” she told NewsBreak. “To be clear, if people present with any substance or mental health issues, that does not immediately disqualify them. They have to be actively seeking help and the screening is scaled (for instance, someone presenting with a three versus a nine will most likely be considered).”

Basis 24 is a widely used screening tool in behavioral health for measuring substance abuse and mental health status.

Recipients must have a point of contact with one of the selected community-based organizations with whom Denver Basic Income Project has partnered.

So far, no one has received any money. “The money has not yet been distributed,” Sherwood told NewsBreak. “We are in the process of screening and selecting applicants for our soft launch (a very small group of people receiving the cash distributions for two months) and the first distribution is scheduled for Aug 15.”

More than 100 people to receive basic incomes

At full capacity, the Denver Basic Income Project hopes to hand out money to more than 100 people experiencing homelessness. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock supports the idea.

“Homelessness, income inequality, a hollowed-out middle class, an alarming disparity in access to opportunity, and the challenges of mental health and poverty. It all stems from a lack of equity in our economic systems,” Hancock said as part of his involvement in Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. “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.”

That’s exactly what Denver Basic Income Project intends to do. “The Denver Basic Income Project believes that providing direct cash payments to the unhoused empowers individuals to make decisions to best suit their needs and provides dignity and agency over their lives,” according to its website. “We are working alongside community partners long invested in the care and success of our homeless neighbors. Together with their trust, we will transform the way in which people rise up.”

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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 newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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