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September 26, 2022

Handouts for the Homeless

Denver is about to find out whether free money is the cure for all that ails the homeless.

The Denver City Council recently approved a $2 million contract with a local organization to help alleviate the city’s homeless epidemic. The money is to be distributed to 140 homeless individuals who will each receive $1,000 cash per month for one year to secure housing while they presumably look for employment and the means to secure permanent housing.

The organization that the Mile High City has partnered with, the Denver Basic Income Project, is all about giving direct cash payments to the homeless. Why? Because, they say, it “empowers individuals to make decisions to best suit their needs and provides dignity and agency over their lives.”

Silly us. We thought gainful employment, rather than free cash, was the better pathway to empowerment and dignity.

The project receives much of its funding from private sources and donations, but the funds for the city contract come from American taxpayers courtesy of the American Rescue Plan. And to ensure that the money goes where the Biden administration and Democrats want it, only women, transgender, and gender non-conforming individuals will be eligible for funds. White heterosexual males need not apply.

Beyond being overtly racist and sexist, this program also lacks accountability. The University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research is tasked with evaluating the program using a randomized control trial to measure housing outcomes, utilization of homeless services, and improvements in mental health and substance use. But this monitoring will only be done for those who opt in. In other words, recipients can take the money, but they can also refuse to take part in any efforts to confirm that they’ve done something good with it.

The Denver City Council points to similar programs in other cities in which the giving of free money to the homeless has supposedly led to increases in steady employment and housing, increased food security, and reductions in alcohol and drug use. There is also anecdotal evidence of success stories that are repeated by politicians and the media to “prove” their success, but hard statistics that support the success of such programs are hard to come by. There are accurate statistics, however, that prove that homelessness in urban areas is increasing, and that chronic homelessness is increasingly tied to crime, poor health (especially mental health), and disease.

The homeless problem has grown worse because civic leaders ignore the root causes, shift blame onto faceless bogeymen to stir resentment, and refuse to accept accountability for their poor management. Our sense is that the homelessness epidemic, such as it is, would be better addressed by focusing on job and vocational training, mental healthcare and drug treatment programs, and organizations that have a real stake in improving the community. Programs that fail to address these areas are merely kicking the can down the road.

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