By Yoonji Han
See original post here.
When Rosemarie Palafox first heard about a social experiment where hundreds of Denver residents experiencing homelessness would be given free cash for a year, she thought it was too good to be true.
“It was all over the news, and I had no idea why they were doing that project,” Palafox, a 43-year-old Native American born in Denver, told Insider. “But it’s freaking awesome.”
For six months in 2022, Palafox had been living in a tent at one of Denver’s safe outdoor spaces, temporary shelters for unhoused people operated by the local government and the nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative.
“There was no food or anything when I was there, just a truck that came around once a week for laundry, but it was better than living outside on the streets,” she said.
Last October, Palafox was entered into the lottery for the Denver Basic Income Project, along with the others at the shelter. She became one of more than 800 people to be enrolled in the program.
“It helped a lot: I was able to pay my bills and go to school without worrying about work,” Palafox, who’s in college to become a construction project manager, said. “I finally had room to breathe.”
But with the last payment coming in just a few weeks, Palafox is starting to feel the familiar anxieties over money returning.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m trying to figure it out,” she said.
Basic income to fight racial and economic inequality
The Denver Basic Income Project was founded in 2021 to examine the impact of guaranteed income on wealth disparity in the US.
“Direct cash is increasingly seen as one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and economic inequality. The dramatic wealth disparity in our country, including right here in Denver, was more apparent than ever amid the pandemic,” Mark Donovan, founder and executive director of the Denver Basic Income Project, told Insider in an email.
More than two-thirds of the 807 participants in the past year’s program identified as people of color, with around 26% identifying as Black, 23% identifying as Latinx, and 5% identifying as American Indian/Alaska Native, according to Donovan.
The project’s participant pool was “designed to mirror the demographics of those that experience homelessness in Denver,” Donovan said, emphasizing the project’s mission of equity.
40% of people experiencing homelessness in the US are Black, 22% Hispanic, and 3% Native American, according to data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The participants were split into three groups: One received $1,000 a month for a year; another received $6,500 up front and then $500 a month from there; and another received just $50 a month.
Palafox was part of the second group. She used the money to furnish the apartment she’d started renting using a housing voucher, plus other necessities and books for college. She also could focus on her studies without worrying about taking on a hodgepodge of temp jobs to pay for rent.
Helping marginalized communities get ahead
Palafox said she wishes there were more guaranteed-income programs, especially as someone from a marginalized background.
“I’m a person of color, and it’s hard to get ahead as it is,” Palafox told Insider. “I was stuck at a minimum-wage job for a long time because I was not in the position to get a decent job due to intersecting parts of my identity. I felt like I was held back.”
Palafox said the money she received from the program helped her “get ahead.” For example, it wasn’t until she went to college that she used a computer for the first time, opening up avenues for higher-paying work — not to mention access to other resources.
“Without money, you’re kept in a rut,” Palafox said.
Although this year’s project is ending, Donovan said the organization is “emphasizing the significance of continuing to seek out support” as participants “strive for long-term stability.”
The Denver Basic Income Project has received a $2 million commitment from the City of Denver in its 2024 budget, and is in talks to determine next steps, according to Donovan.