Denver, CO

Tesla's connection to homelessness in Denver

David Heitz

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Tesla automobiles are everywhere in Denver. So are people experiencing homelessness.

It’s a stark dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots. But thanks to a generous Tesla investor, the electric car’s insane success has trickled down to the Denver homeless community.

Mark Patrick Donovan is a Denver philanthropist and founder of the Denver Basic Income Project. He revealed in a blog post Saturday that he seeded his plan to provide payments to people experiencing homelessness with $500,000 in Tesla investment windfalls.

He also provided an update to his plan. “We don’t have to wait for the government to come in and fix things, as Tesla has shown in the automotive industry,” Donovan wrote in a blog post appearing on CleanTechnica.com. “We just need to offer better solutions. Direct cash is increasingly seen as one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and economic inequality.”

Just how much money is Donovan giving away? On top of his own half a million, he has raised another $2.5 million in donations.

Donovan handing out $1,000 per month

“In mid-2020, I started giving out $1,000 monthly grants directly to individuals who had been impacted by COVID,” Donovan wrote in the blog. “In January of 2021, the Denver Basic Income Project (DBIP) started to organize a formal guaranteed basic income pilot for unhoused individuals in Denver…. DBIP will be accepting applications from 2,000 potential recipients through 15 partner organizations who will be the point of contact through the program and provide additional wrap-around support where needed.”

The program is expected to be up and running early next year. From the group of applicants, 820 people will be randomly assigned to one of three groups. Group A will receive $6,500 up front and $500 per month for 11 months. Group B will get $1,000 per month for 12 months. Group C will be a comparison group. Study participants in that group will receive $50 per month for completing surveys to gauge the impact.

In the blog post, Donovan makes an appeal to fellow Tesla investors. “I challenge you to take a small part of the gains you have received and deploy them with the goal of creating positive change,” he writes. “Do what resonates with you. If this project compels you, donate to the Denver Basic Income Project and help us close out our phase one fundraising. If you are feeling more bold, launch a similar initiative in your city. We’ll give you our playbook. Reach out to me directly and let’s start this conversation.”

He hopes to expand the Basic Income Project to other cities. “Twenty additional cities by 2022 and 200 more by 2023 will have a direct impact on over 100,000 individuals while also providing the learnings and direction to potentially scale the program and significantly reduce homelessness while increasing economic justice in a meaningful way,” Donovan explains in the blog post.

Journalist experienced homelessness in 2019

As someone who experienced homelessness in Denver in 2019, I wonder what the handouts will accomplish. It’s true that many, but not most, people experiencing homelessness battle alcoholism and/or drug addiction. Would the Denver Basic Income Project just give them money to ruin their lives with?

Only time will tell. When I experienced homelessness, I was not addicted to hard drugs. When I received my first stimulus check, I bought a new computer. My old computer, a brand-new Mac Book Pro, was stolen during homelessness.

Once I had my computer, which was about $400, I began looking for writing jobs. I have been a professional journalist more than 30 years. I found a job rather quickly writing blog posts for drug treatment centers. I have written blogs about drugs and alcohol for several companies. I then started writing for NewsBreak last year. I consider it a full-time job even though it’s freelance work.

My life has vastly improved. I have housing and pay 30 percent of my income for rent. I can’t help but wonder if I had enough money to buy a computer sooner if I would have gotten out of homelessness sooner.

Had I received a basic income, I would have at once paid for shelter housing. There are shelters that charge weekly for a bed. These shelters tend to attract working people experiencing homelessness and there are fewer problems.

I know there will be people in the Denver Basic Income Project that blow their stipends on drugs and alcohol. But I expect most people will see the income as an opportunity to crawl out of the abyss of homelessness.

Only time will tell if a basic income ends up being as revolutionary for homelessness as Tesla has been for automobiles and the environment.

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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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