DENVER (KDVR) — An idea born from the pandemic to give direct cash to Denver’s most vulnerable population is planning to grow its footprint in the Mile High City.

The Denver Basic Income Project has been operational since the start of 2021, with the goal of cutting checks with no strings attached to people experiencing homelessness. Since August of last year, it has given out roughly $70,000 in guaranteed income to 11 individuals as part of its first pilot.

“The genesis of it was really at the beginning of COVID when I was watching people losing their sources of income and stability, and at the same time, watching enormous wealth generation with companies like Apple gaining a trillion dollars in market capitalization, and sort of the inequity of that and the urgent need for us to take action,” said the project’s founder, Mark Donovan.

Donovan said they are working with the University of Denver Center for Housing and Homelessness Research, which is doing a randomized control trial as part of the program. Daniel Brisson, who is involved in that trial, said they are excited about the results and are on track for delivery.

How the Denver Basic Income Project works

Currently, the program has criteria for participant eligibility, requiring people are connected with partners working with the program and fit the definition of homelessness set by the group.

Money is allocated in different ways. Some individuals get a check for $6,500 upfront, with another $500 a month for 11 months. Others receive a check of $1,000 every month for a year, and the final group received $50 a month for 12 months.

The goal is to figure out which allocation of money has the greatest chance to produce a positive outcome.

“The purpose of the soft launch is more about testing our assumptions and the mechanism of the program, because the full launch is going to be close to 820 people, and so we wanted to make sure we had the capacity and ability to deliver this with the highest likelihood of success,” Donovan said.

What’s next for the project?

Shontel Lewis is working with the group as a consultant and helping the project scale up ahead of its next phase this summer.

“One of the things we have talked about quite a bit is acknowledging the historical harms and how communities of color have really been locked out of or presented barriers to get out of poverty,” Lewis said. “I would say, on a large scale, that we lessen those gaps and provide folks the opportunity to have that autonomy.”

Donovan said the money comes from a combination of donations and the foundation community in Denver. So far, they’ve raised $4.8 million, with an expected $2.2 million more in funding that should be finalized soon.

They are still looking for $1 million more in additional funds to run the full program. Donations can be made here.

“We wouldn’t rule out seeking public-private partnerships as well,” Donovan said.

For now, the group will continue to focus its efforts on people experiencing homelessness but could see the program expand beyond that sphere down the line, and hope more cities start organizing similar programs.

“The reason we chose to do this in this particular community is because the need is so urgent and so important,” Donovan said.