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Denver pilot program aims to help struggling families through universal basic income

On Monday, Denver City Council approved a contract that will provide 140 people or families with universal basic income over a year.

DENVER — On Monday, Denver City Council approved a contract that would provide cash assistance to 230 people or families, including 140 who will receive up to $12,000 in universal basic income over the course of one year.

While the $2 million contract is with the nonprofit Impact Charitable, the move joins the effort of the Denver Basic Income Project, which looks to serve around 600 other households, according to a presentation to council in August.

According to a FAQ, the city-funded program will focus on women, transgender and gender non-conforming people, and families currently using the shelter system. They will get a monthly stipend for one year. 

"Throughout the pandemic, we saw more women and families needing to access shelter," said Angie Nelson, Deputy Director of Housing Stability and Homelessness Resolution under the City of Denver's Department of Housing Stability. "And while we continue to work on the long-term solutions of supportive housing, affordable housing, there's also a lot of families for whom a hand up is really what they need."

Nelson said this will not be a program that people can sign up for. Instead, the city will use their partners to identify people using the shelter system around the city. 

"And this type of brief financial assistance is just the type of intervention that can really help resolve an episode of homelessness for a lot of the folks in the program," she said. 

Credit: Luis de Leon
City and County of Denver building

The effort supports 230 households in total. Of those, 90 will receive $50 a month. 

The other 140 will receive the $12,000 basic income.

They're taking two approaches: one group receives $6,500 upfront, and then $500 for the following 11 months.

Another group will receive $1,000 per month, for one year.

"Trying to identify: does the upfront infusion of a large lump sum of cash assistance provide more relief and support for families trying to meet their basic needs?" Nelson said.

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She said they'll be looking to match families with the "right level" of need to this kind of resource.

"So we want to be sure that we're being responsible here and ensuring that people who have really deep service needs," Nelson said. "So maybe they really need more wraparound services from a case manager, maybe they have more intense substance misuse needs or more intense mental health and behavioral health needs."

The program will be evaluated by the University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research.

The evaluation will monitor the course of the program by looking at housing outcomes, utilization of shelter and other homeless services, and improvements in psychological health and substance use.

Credit: FILE

Other cities that implemented a similar pilot program to help with housing stability include Stockton, California and Richmond, Virginia. 

Nelson said they looked into how programs there operated, and the results. 

"And what we've seen so far is really promising," she said. "People improved. So we saw gains in full-time employment. We saw people moving to stable housing sooner. We saw increases in people spending money on staples like food and transportation. And we saw reductions in spending on things like drugs and alcohol."

In November, Nelson said, they hope to start enrolling families. 

The assistance would then wrap up by the end of 2023, with a report showing the findings of the program sometime in 2024. 

"And see, is this an investment or a type of product that we want to keep in our toolbox of services for the long term?" Nelson said. "And what do we learn about how this supports our community?"

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the correct amount of upfront cash assistance for some recipients of the project, which is $6,500.

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