DENVER, Colo. — The circumstances that lead to homelessness is a problem Denver is trying to solve. A new project wants to find out if $1,000 direct payments to people living on Denver's streets could be one of those solutions.
"People across the country are recognizing the huge benefits of basic income," said Jessica Sherwood, the director of the Denver Basic Income Project. "We know that this is going to make a huge change in people's lives."
Starting July 1, the Denver Basic Income Project and the University of Denver's Center for Housing and Homeless Research will begin direct payments to selected participants who are homeless. Two-hundred and sixty people will receive a direct payment every month of $1000. Another 260 will receive $6500 upfront and then $500 every month. A final control group of 300 participants will receive $50 every month.
"We are not telling them how to spend their money," Sherwood said. "We are giving them the dignity and providing them with the agency to make the choices that are going to be most impactful for their lives."
The idea is similar to the recent push for universal basic income which made national headlines when it was pushed by then-Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. The theory concludes that a basic income covering an entire population will allow people to spend money on necessities in order to elevate their circumstances.
The Denver Basic Income Project is specifically targeting Denver's homeless population to see if that same theory can work to alleviate poverty.
"This is a test to some degree if that policy idea can work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, people without a home," said Daniel Brisson, the director of DU's Center for Housing and Homelessness Research. "We need to innovate our way out of this. We need to rethink re-conceptualize this."
A similar study is ongoing in Stockton, Calif., where 125 people living around the poverty line were paid $500 per month. The study found that most of the individuals in the study were able to use the money to pay off debt and find stable jobs. The study also noted intangible impacts like less anxiety and better relationships with family and community.
The Denver Basic Income Project is the first study of its kind to focus specifically on an unhoused population. The initiative received praise from Denver's mayor, Michael Hancock, who said the project "is an opportunity to explore how the philanthropic community and the private sector can augment public support for those living in poverty."
The Denver Basic Income Project and the University of Denver will study the impacts of the payments over the coming year. The project is funded by donations from the public. For more information, you can visit the Denver Basic income Project's website.