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Denver Basic Income Project extended for an additional six months

Nick Pacheco at a Denver Basic Income Project rally.
Armando Geneyro
Courtesy of Denver Basic Income Project.
Nick Pacheco at a Denver Basic Income Project rally.

A program that gives no-strings-attached cash payments to people in poverty in Denver has been extended for another six months.

The Denver Basic Income Project is different from other Universal Basic Income programs across the country in that it works with those who are unhoused.

Jackie Sedley spoke with Nick Pacheco, coordinator for the extension of the Denver Basic Income Project.

Nick Pacheco: I'm a service provider in the community, but my lived experience gave me the ability to help paint a picture for the other members of the board who were designing this and didn't have the same experiences that I've had. You know, growing up in the streets of Denver, experiencing gangs to drugs, going to the Colorado Department of Corrections for 21 years of my life.

I've been out for three years now, and in those three years, I was very fortunate to meet Mark Donovan (founder & executive director of the Denver Basic Income Project) who introduced me to his mission. His mission was to provide cash to the unhoused community. Now, I believe back then, no one understood it. I for sure did not understand it. Like, you're gonna give cash to people who are homeless? That was my perspective. The people that I was surrounded by with the Denver Basic Income Project, instilled in me the understanding and the importance of individuals and dignity and respect. And that, that right there allowed me to grow and contribute to something very worthy, very valuable, and needed in our community.

Jackie Sedley: Tell me a bit about the Denver Basic Income Program, who it serves specifically, and how it serves them.

Pacheco: So the Denver Basic Income Project serves the unhoused community with direct cash. Mark Donovan, his goal was to provide cash to the unhoused so they could create an income floor that they could stand on.

And it's up to the community-based organizations, the partners of DBIP, to do what they do best: provide services, provide opportunities, guide, and mentor. Everyone deserves an income floor. We provide a monthly deposit into a checking account or banking account. If they do not have one, we provide that.

There were three different groups that we chose to implement in this program. One group received a lump sum of $6,500 and then $500 a month for 11 months. Another group received $1,000 a month for 12 months. And then there was the control group and that was 50 bucks a month.

And you have a research team. The University of Denver Center of Housing and Homelessness is going to follow the patterns, the progressions, the regressions, if there were any and we were hoping that this model did not allow someone to regress. That was a big concern, I believe, of the community, and there are a lot of non-understanding individuals in our world when it comes to this crisis. DBIP and the research team worked really hard to try to bring an understanding to what is going on.

Sedley: So I know the program was just extended. Why was it extended and can folks still apply or does the extension only apply to those that were already in the program?

Pacheco: So the extension applies to folks that are already in the program, already enrolled. We designed it to go for one year and we decided that our participants need more than a year to find that sustainability. Just like it took years to become unhoused, it took years to lose everything to become in that state, it's going to take more than a year to get out of it. So we voted for an extension.

Now we're working hard to build and raise more funding for this program for these individuals who deserve it, because the outcomes, and the research, all point in the right direction.

So everyone's grateful for six more months. I've had individuals crying on the phone like they needed this. That connection that they've had for the past year has been something that has kept them above water, not just financially, but mentally, and emotionally. They've had a connection to something valuable. And that's why I'm very happy to tell people that we've gone from $50 to $100. It's been increased in that group

Sedley: On that note, are there any impacts that you hope to see this project have? Obviously, you've touched on in Denver, on an individual level, but on a national scale, do you hope that this inspires programs like it in other places?

Pacheco: So, back in June, we had this national conference. The BIG, Basic Income Conference of 2023. Chicago, New York, and California - huge programs they've been doing for a while. However, their programs are a little bit different than Denver's. In a lot of those other big cities, their government designed lots of policies. The same things that individuals run from, that are unhoused. We focused on a community that other cities aren't doing basic income with. Most basic income programs nationally are (for) single moms, and low-income families, which is very important. Huge.

When they found out that we were doing the unhoused community, it caught national attention. I knew that Denver was getting attention, but I didn't know it was this huge. I think we got national attention because this was a project that is designed by the community for the community. We don't come with government policies. We don't come with red tape. We don't come with stipulations. Not to say that all the other programs are like that. No, not at all. But I'm saying, we're not like that. And for the community that we serve, that's important.

Denver Basic Income Project can't do it alone. We need foundations that believe in the same values that we do and we are reaching out continually. The City of Denver, we’ve got full support. Mayor Mike Johnston has his hands full with this crisis, and we are here to help with that. But we need help with helping. We can't do it by ourselves, so I would encourage individuals who are connected to foundations who know entities that have the funding that would love to invest and back up this movement that we are in right now.

Sedley: All right. Thank you so much, Nick. I really appreciate you taking the time this morning.

Pacheco: I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Researchers at the University of Denver Center of Housing and Homelessness released a report last June based on data collected in the first six months of the project. Participants in all three payment groups were experiencing better living conditions. More participants were living in rented or owned homes than at the beginning of the study. In addition, fewer participants were sleeping outside and fewer were utilizing public health services, including emergency rooms.

Copyright 2024 KGNU.

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Jackie Sedley is KGNU's Report for America Corps Member where she covers all things environment and climate. Before moving to Mountain Time, she lived in sunny California working as the Internal News Director for KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara. Sedley's journalism career thus far has also included freelancing for the New York Times, producing and reporting for KCRW, and working as Editor-in-Chief for her community college newspaper. Sedley was introduced to journalism during her sophomore year of high school, when she joined her high school newspaper as a novice staff writer. After working her way up to News Editor and eventually Editor-in-Chief, she realized her thirst for reporting was truly unquenchable. Over the past 10 years Sedley has covered raging fires, housing crises, local elections, protests and more. Journalism is both the reason Jackie Sedley wakes up in the morning, and the reason she does not sleep enough at night.