By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – “People go through a lot of stuff in life. Not everybody’s life’s perfect,” said Michael Evans as he picked up food at a distribution kitchen in Five Points.

Now holding down a part-time job in a warehouse, Evans is still homeless.

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“Sometimes it takes a while to overcome and that I don’t even know if I’m ever going to do it,” he said about his situation.

“A large percentage of America is unable to handle a $400 emergency. People are living on the edge and that stress can be debilitating,” said entrepreneur Mark Donovan. “And some basic cash can make all the difference.”

Donovan has been a success in a Bali, Indonesia-based sweater business for over 30 years. He also made a tidy sum in investment in Tesla. Looking for a way to put his money into something that aligned with his values, he started giving a dozen people hurting people a thousand dollars a month in 2020. He saw great results, like an old friend.

“He has a master’s in public administration and he was doing everything he could to live a good life and support others, but still he ended up homeless and in his car without a license and he had given up. He was literally at his end and this made all the difference. I’ve seen it in action, I know that it works.”

Donovan has seeded a half-million dollars to start up the Denver Basic Income Project. The non-profit is planning to start the program in July. They will offer approved candidates monthly payments of $1,000, or to some others, a $6,500 one-time payment, then $500 a month. The organization says it, “Recognizes people are disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers.”

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Other projects have attempted direct cash payments. One project was in Vancouver, British Columbia and another in Stockton, California. In Stockton a study showed people were healthier and had less depression and anxiety. In Vancouver, a study showed people prioritized recurring spending on staples like housing or rent, food, transportation, and utility bills. They also calculated a 39% reduction in spending on things like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.

“What we’re trying to learn is how to do it better because it’s not a one size fits all model. It’s not just about cash either. It’s about putting trust and respect toward individuals and really saying to them that you can do this,” said Donovan.

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Michael Evans was interested in hearing more about it.

“That would be great. That would be an awesome move. Not just trying to hold my hand. Just enough to get me to the over the threshold.”

Participants would be screened for issues of mental health, drugs or alcohol said Jessica Sherwood, who has signed onto the Basic Income Project as director.

“It actually incentivizes them. It gives them that leg up. It gives them again that hope that they can move forward that they can get their car, that they can get that P.O. box, that they can take a shower, or whatever it is. They are not disincentivized.”

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Sherwood says they are seeking more private funding to get up to $5.5 million at the program’s outset. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock lent an endorsement to the project, but the city has pledged no tax dollars. Swanson says they may eventually seek help from government.

“That would be amazing. Perhaps we’ll put forward a ballot initiative to the voters of Denver,” she said. “Right now we’re focused on launching this pilot program and proving the efficacy.”

Michael Evans said he could make good use of the money if he could qualify.

“You give me $1,000 every month, I might be able to get some furniture and have some food in the refrigerator to go with that.”

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LINK: Denver Basic Income Project

Alan Gionet