Denver Basic Income Project postpones launch of direct cash flow

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It is not easy to give a small fortune.

Thanks to wise investments, Mark Donovan’s wealth has skyrocketed during the pandemic, but his recognition of the widening gap between rich and poor has also increased. He wanted to channel his privilege into public service and started looking for options.

“I saw people losing their main sources of income and their stability, and their homes in many cases, and I saw my investment in Tesla grow six to eight times,” recalls Donovan, a Denver entrepreneur who co-founded a Bali- clothing company based in the early 1990s. “I started to dive deep into the direct money space and realized it was working. All the projects going on in the world are having amazing results. positive. ”

After experimenting with awarding personal grants of $ 1,000 per month to twelve people during the last semester of 2020, he decided to go further.

So early this year, Donovan founded the Denver Basic Income Project, in partnership with other organizations to direct cash payments to homeless people. DBIP would randomly select 260 participants to each receive $ 6,500 up front, then an additional $ 500 per month for eleven months; 260 others would get $ 1,000 each for twelve months; and 300 participants would receive $ 50 per month for twelve months.

Donovan has committed $ 500,000 to the project and plans to raise the rest from individuals and organizations, with the goal of a full launch in the fall.

Compared to a social safety net filled with administrative processes and hurdles, Donovan believed that providing money directly would better help the people he hoped to serve. “I also wanted to find a way to leverage my white privilege, my wealth privilege, and my power in a way that could inspire other people to do the same because we have been so disproportionately advantaged.” , he explains.

But after the Denver Basic Income Project’s welfare announcement, the project ran into trouble.

Denver homeless aloud was an original partner, with Mile High Ministries. But in August, even as DBIP began distributing money to a pilot program of a dozen participants, DHOL withdrew from the project, as did a few staff members.

Ana Cornelius, a DHOL organizer who was part of DBIP’s advisory board, said a lack of transparency in the project’s decision-making process, as well as the proposed language for a consent form, convinced her that she had to separate from the project. “I’m really frustrated because this project is really important and needs to be done well. If not done well, it could be disastrous for my community, ”says Cornelius. “At this point, I am concerned that it is not done well and that the data collected will be used to work against Basic Income. ”

DBIP participants are required to work with a service provider – one of the partner organizations – and sign a consent form adhering to the project’s policies on spending and behavior. According to Cornelius, a reference in form to a broad “do no harm” policy was particularly disturbing; she says that “do no harm” could give rise to many interpretations and lead vulnerable people to be sent back to the streets.

Cornelius describes the structure of DBIP as “a runaway train created to fabricate consent.” She says the project implemented shortened deadlines, requested work while on vacation, and was not transparent. “I was really upset that all of my boundaries were violated,” she says. “These rich white men are in the boardroom making decisions for themselves, excluding the people who should have the most say in this project.”

The DBIP board should represent the people it is intended to serve, she says: “There is no homeless person on the board. I was the person who represented this community and I had personal experience with homeless people. Not all the people they have on the board are representative of the people on the streets and I will not participate in this structure. ”

Cornelius also had issues with DBIP’s tax sponsor: Impact charity, a Denver-based nonprofit designed to promote economic and social equity through community-based projects, which joined the group on June 25. “If you don’t want to recreate the status quo, don’t line up with the status quo,” Cornelius says.

Cornelius had concerns about the governance process between Donovan and Impact Charitable, and impositions such as credit limitations that could lead to failure of vulnerable participants. One of the participants who worked with Cornelius planned to use the money from the project to buy a motorhome to escape an abusive relationship. But by limiting the amount that can be withdrawn each day – a proposal $ 705 initially – she was put in a risky situation as she saved her hiding place. “For someone living in a tent, it’s not safe to store that kind of money for days. It could get you killed, ”Cornelius said.

Both Impact Charitable and DBIP work through AidKit, a data collection application used to track participant expenses and ensure they align with project policies.

“DBIP’s fiduciary partner, Impact Charitable, is a widely diverse and highly regarded entity with a strong history of deploying capital for social good,” said Rich Hoops, Executive Director of Impact Charitable. “Both organizations are deeply committed to addressing racial inequalities and other forms of economic and social oppression.” For example, Impact Charitable led efforts like the Left Behind Workers Fund, which distributed direct payments to undocumented migrants facing unemployment during the pandemic.

But Jessica Sherwood, a staff member, also left the project on September 1 due to her own hesitation about Impact Charitable’s involvement in DBIP. “The Tax Sponsor is a pretty traditional, hierarchical, patriarchal structure and they really did start to exert some influence over the program that a lot of people struggled with,” says Sherwood. “The way the organization was structured ended up being a different philosophical approach than what a lot of people involved, including myself, thought the structure was going to have.”

Despite concerns over Impact Charitable’s involvement, Donovan believes the nonprofit is uniquely positioned to run something like DBIP and believes the partnership will guide the project in a positive direction. “If we wanted to build these capabilities from scratch, it would have significantly delayed the program and there would be no guarantee that we did it successfully,” he says. “There are liability issues for the organizations, the fiscal sponsor, for everyone involved. . I think most people are of the opinion that the concept here is hard cash, so find a way to create the right protections for organizations and individuals in the program – this needs to be worked out through the form of consent and we’ll be working on that to find something that works for that purpose. ”

Mile High Ministries is now redirecting pilot program participants who were working with DHOL to its own community program, Joshua Station. But Cornelius says the six participants initially assigned to DHOL don’t want to work with anyone else.

Maria Sierra, who sits on Joshua Station’s planning board, is working to change that. “What we hope to find out on the soft launch is what we need to fix, tweak or review to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks,” Sierra said. “It takes a little longer.”

The University of Denver Housing and Homelessness Research Center is another project partner, working on research.

“One of the most exciting things is that we may be seeing people who are homeless right now with more positive housing stability results,” said Daniel Brisson, CEO of CU CHHR. “Housing is a huge challenge in Denver, and the project is focusing on the most difficult parts of affordable housing in our city.”

DBIP is currently in the midst of a reorganization, which is pushing the full program rollout schedule to an undetermined date. But although the reorganization slows down the distribution of the money, Donovan believes it will ensure that the project is inclusive and representative of the people on the streets in the future, and does not put them in a risky position by agreeing to participate.

“Social and economic justice is infused into the work of providing a basic income to homeless people. We have structured the selection process to ensure that the recipients are representative of the real homeless demographics, which we all know is over-represented by BIPOC communities, ”said Donovan. “This choice was not made without considering all of these factors. The choice was made in what we believe to be the best interests of the people we seek to serve.

“We are fully committed to building an organization that is inclusive and representative of the communities we serve,” he concludes. “We are working towards this goal every day.”


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