Direct cash for homeless Denverites wins unanimous council approval
(Colorado Newsline) The Denver Basic Income Project will get another year of funding to support people experiencing homelessness through direct cash assistance, with Denver City Council support.
While Mayor Mike Johnston’s initial budget proposal didn’t include funding for a second year of the DBIP — an initiative supported by local organizations that provided no-strings-attached cash assistance to 800 people experiencing homelessness in its first year — City Council unanimously supported a budget amendment adding $4 million in funding for the program.
Mark Donovan, founder and director of the DBIP, said he is thankful city leaders prioritized “innovative solutions to address homelessness and poverty in Denver,” as the program he runs has provided a “beacon of hope” for recipients.
“With 12 votes in support of a $4 million budget amendment, Denver City Council is showing that they stand with our unhoused neighbors and are willing to invest in programs that offer stability, dignity, and an opportunity to break free from the cycle of homelessness and despair,” Donovan said in an email. “Our program is pursuing every possible path to additional funding to avoid a lapse in programming in November, and support from Denver City Council is a critical milestone for DBIP.”
In the first full iteration of the DBIP, just over 800 participants were randomly assigned to three cohorts. One cohort received $1,000 a month for 12 months, another received $6,500 up front and then $500 a month for the remaining 11 months, and the last group, the control group, received $50 a month to complete a survey so the project has a solid baseline for comparison. Participants also received a cell phone with service paid off for the 12 months of the program.
Council member Shontel Lewis was one of the sponsors of the budget amendment to support DBIP. She said through the budgeting process, she stayed in contact with people who have benefitted from basic income as well as DBIP leadership, communicating the success of the program to her colleagues.
“I really learned the importance of basic income for so many folks in our community, and understanding that without this funding, over 800 folks would be negatively impacted by the lack of access to basic income,” Lewis told Newsline.
Lewis said the initial hesitations around supporting the new budget line for DBIP concerned a lack of long-term data from the program, but six-month data just released by DBIP shows the positive impact direct cash assistance had on people in Denver. She said the majority of council members understood there wasn’t enough time to wait for year-long data, as a delay could lead to people losing housing without access to the funding.
The six-month report, prepared by the Center for Housing and Homelessness Research, found that more participants across all cohorts live in a home since the start of the study, fewer participants sleep outside and fewer participants rely on public health services like emergency rooms.
Funding for the Denver Basic Income Project has a veto-proof majority of the council supporting it, and Lewis said the unanimous support will signal to Johnston that this is a top priority for council. A spokesperson for Johnston said he will respond to council’s budget amendments in the coming days.
“Folks understand that this is one of the many strategies that we can employ to be able to tackle the issue of homelessness,” Lewis said. “Basic income is one of the prongs in terms of our approach to dealing with homelessness. It’s the opportunity for folks to receive unconditional cash, to be able to make the decisions that make the most sense for their lives.”
The program has not only led to participants finding housing, Lewis said, but also jobs, along with the tools they need to stay in their jobs. She said other programs, such as rental assistance, medical debt relief and social housing, are other opportunities to help keep people in Denver housed for the long term.