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No-strings-attached cash assistance program in Denver extended

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No-strings-attached cash assistance program in Denver extended

Apr 09, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Lindsey Toomer
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No-strings-attached cash assistance program in Denver extended
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Supporters of the Denver Basic Income Project march down Colfax Avenue during a rally for Basic Income National Day of Action, Sept. 22, 2023. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)

After rounding up enough funding for a six-month extension, staff at the Denver Basic Income Project continue to help participants find stability, including permanent housing and secure jobs. 

The organization is providing another round of no-strings-attached cash assistance to people who have experienced homelessness in Denver, distributing funding to more than 600 participants. The extension was possible because of financial support from Denver City Council 

DBIP started with two soft launches with 10 and 28 participants, respectively. 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. 

Nick Pacheco, who works as a reenrollment coordinator for DBIP, said for the six-month extension, the control group will get $100 a month, and the other groups both get $1,000 a month. On the 15th of of every month, participants get a direct deposit either into their personal bank account or onto a debit card provided by DBIP, he said. Just over 660 participants are enrolled for the extension. 

“We have done things that no one else has done here in Denver,” Pacheco said. “We are unique because we have provided direct cash to the unhoused community at a capacity that has not been done yet … We’ve caught national attention with what we’re doing here and other cities are inquiring about our model.”

The nonprofit, which started in 2020, says it’s the first and largest organization in the country to study the impact of direct cash assistance on people experiencing homelessness. Denver partnered with DBIP in 2022 as a priority of the city’s Department of Housing Stability, providing $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding.

We’ve caught national attention with what we’re doing here and other cities are inquiring about our model.

– Nick Pacheco, of Denver Basic Income Project

Mark Dononvan, founder and executive director of the project, said guaranteed income is just one of many tools that can help people experiencing homelessness get back on their feet. He said the income gives families the autonomy to prioritize what makes the most sense for their circumstances. 

The University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research is working on a year-long study of the project. It released an interim report in October. Donovan said that in the first six months, participants from every group lived in a home they either rented or owned, and many in the larger payment group got full-time jobs. 

“Many reported that they have used the money to pay off debt, repair their car, secure housing and enroll in a course,” Donovan said in an email. “These are all paths that could eventually lead participants out of poverty and allow them to be less dependent on social support programs.” 

Without stigma or judgment

Moriah Rodriguez found herself displaced and without stable housing after she was hit by a car in 2018, which led to a brain injury. Her only source of income was $900 a month from Social Security, and with three teenagers, that was not enough for her family to survive on.

Rodriguez said she found out about the Denver Basic Income Project through a friend who helped her daughter get a job at a local community organization. She was surprised when she found out there was a program that provided no-strings-attached cash assistance, and applied without expecting any response. 

“When I was accepted, I was in disbelief,” Rodriguez said. “I was blown away.” 

After getting enrolled in the program, she was able to pay for gas, food and clothing for herself and her kids. 

“That extra money gave me room to move around and do what I had to do,” Rodriguez said. “I was able to get housing because I had that extra income too. It helped me fix my truck.” 

Pacheco said organizations that support people experiencing homelessness in Denver need to gain the trust of those they’re trying to reach to be effective. 

“It’s hard to gain trust of individuals who, plain and simple, are struggling more than we can even fathom unless you’ve been in their shoes,” Pacheco said. 

Pacheco said he wanted to use his experience as a workforce coordinator to further help participants beyond no-strings-attached cash, and he sees the team continuing to add more forms of support. He said the DBIP team organized a movie night for all the participants to come together in December, and he said they were grateful to see everyone involved in one room. They also held an event for participants at the Denver Botanic Gardens. 

“When this first started, a lot of our participants were outside living in the elements, and sometimes that was hard to connect with them,” Pacheco said, “and now there’s more stabilization.” 

Donovan said other projects similar to the DBIP found that longer-term programs “provide a more comprehensive body of research and continued stability for participants.” He said their team hopes to use the next few months to grow its funder base with additional donors who value the organization’s mission. 

For Rodriguez, getting financial assistance without stigma or judgment is refreshing. She said basic income should be normalized, especially considering the high cost of living and wages that aren’t able to keep up. 

“Sometimes people just need a little bit of help to get where they want to go, and that’s what this program is doing,” she said. “It’s helping people.”