Denver, CO

Migrant from Guatemala says he will hire lawyer with Denver Basic Income Project help

David Heitz

A migrant from Guatemala thanked the City Council Monday for funding the Denver Basic Income Project and asked they continue to fund it so he can hire a lawyer and become a U.S. citizen.

For the past several weeks at City Council meetings, people have been speaking in support of the project. The Denver Basic Income Project, or DBIP, provides no-strings attached cash to 807 people experiencing homelessness, according to a fact sheet on its website. Nearly half have a disability. People with severe mental illness or substance abuse problems were not considered for the project.

Among several people who spoke on behalf of the project Monday was Mauricio Rodas. Speaking through an interpreter, Rodas said he is the last of his brothers to become a U.S. citizen. He plans to use his DBIP money to buy tools for his job and to keep his car in good repair. He said he also will hire an attorney and become a U.S. Citizen. “I would need to pay for a lawyer. That would help me out with my case,” he said, repeatedly thanking the city for funding the program.

The project gives a third of participants $1,000 per month for 12 months. Another third gets $6,500 the first month and $500 the eleven subsequent months. The last third, a control group, gets $50 per month for 12 months.

Speakers ask city to chip in $4 million

Last month, those who spoke in support of the DBIP had asked the council to contribute $10 million toward the project. On Monday most speakers asked for $4 million. The council is currently in the middle of the budget process for 2024. The council gave $2 million to the project last year.

The Center for Housing and Homelessness Research at Denver University has been studying the program, which began in 2021 with seed money from philanthropist Mark Donovan. Donovan experienced success investing in Tesla.

Money going to food, housing

A preliminary report from the research project showed that basic income is helping recipients of the money stay housed and fed. “They used the cash transfers to meet their immediate basic needs (e.g., transportation, groceries, hygiene, regular bills, and expenses (e.g., rent, debt, car repair) and support planning for bigger changes (e.g., new housing, car purchase) when possible, in ways that benefited their future, their mental health, and their children or family members. While participants struggled in determining how to spend the DBIP funds, feeling the tension between freedom and responsibility, DBIP provided them further opportunities for financial stability and positivity for the future.”

Denver Basic Income Project building relationships

On Monday, Mary Putman of the Reciprocity Collective explained that her organization helps distribute DBIP funds. Putman said her organization hooks people up with mental health and sobriety services, “The two big elephants in this room when we talk about homelessness, and we paint everybody with that brush, and we paint them with that brush as though nothing can be done about it. I posit what can be done about it is building healthy relationships in the community.” Putman said the Denver Basic Income Project is doing just that.

Eleni Sarris spoke of a man she knew who had been renting a tent in the back yard of the apartment building from which he was evicted. The landlord charged $700 per month for the tent, Sarris said. She said he could have used the Denver Basic Income Project.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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