Hyde Park voucher program proving to be successful
When the Rev. Susan Johnson recently gave a needy woman a voucher instead of cash and asked her if she knew about the program, "the woman said, 'I thought they were just an urban myth,' " Johnson said.
The Hyde Park voucher program was launched last summer by the South Side Commodities Exchange in cooperation with the University, area churches, local business owners and volunteers to address legitimate concern about panhandling and to help indigent individuals and families. Giving vouchers instead of cash helps ensure that contributions will be used for food, clothing and shelter instead of drugs or alcohol and discourages panhandling by individuals who are only interested in cash contributions.
The voucher program is proving to be successful, according to Johnson, who is a minister of Hyde Park Union Church and coordinator of the voucher program. In the five months that the Hyde Park voucher program has been in operation, it has raised close to $3,000 for job training and placement programs while helping poor and homeless people meet basic needs, Johnson said.
For the program to continue to succeed, people must remember to buy the vouchers, distribute them and remind recipients where they can be redeemed, Johnson said. Vouchers are sold for 50 cents each at local businesses and churches and are intended to be given to panhandlers in lieu of cash. Vouchers can then be redeemed at participating stores in exchange for food, clothing or services. Vouchers cannot be used to purchase drugs or alcohol.
The voucher program now has a 30 percent redemption rate, which is promising for such a young program, Johnson said. The program's success "reflects the intimacy of the Hyde Park community and the genuine need of those on the streets," she said. She hopes the redemption rate eventually reaches the Berkeley, Calif., rate of more than 80 percent. The Hyde Park program is modeled in part on the Berkeley program.
"For a program like this to be successful in a more urban environment like Chicago says a lot," Johnson said. "We hope it will spread to other communities in town, and we already have had requests for information from community organizations in New York City looking to develop similar programs."
Coupled with the voucher program is a donation fund dedicated to addressing the underlying causes of hunger and homelessness. A major focus of the fund is to support job creation and training efforts such as the Jobs Initiative of Partners in Community Development. The Jobs Initiative provides services for unemployed, low-income adults from the Mid-South Side to meet residents' immediate employment needs and prepare them for long-term career development. Donations can be made at many of the locations selling vouchers.
Vouchers can be purchased and redeemed throughout Hyde Park. On campus, they can be purchased at Reynolds Club, Divinity School Coffee Shop, University Community Service Center and University Bookstore. Vouchers are also available at Anderson Ace Hardware, 57th Street Books, Harper Court Foundation, Hyde Park Office Products, Joyce's Hallmark, Kinko's Copies, Mailboxes Etc., Seminary Cooperative Bookstore, Toys Etcetera, True Value Hardware & University Lock and Key, and Video Connection. Vouchers can also be purchased at many religious institutions in Hyde Park.
Vouchers can be redeemed at Hyde Park Cooperative Supermarket, Hyde Park Mini Mart, Hyde Park Produce, Jesselson's Fish & Seafood House, Melody Foods, Mr. G's Finer Foods, Mr. T's Shoe Repair, Pizza Hut, Rajun Cajun Chicken and Pasta, University Market, Village Foods and F.W. Woolworth Co.
The voucher program is staffed entirely by volunteers. For a complete list of participating organizations or to volunteer, call the South Side Commodities Exchange c/o Hyde Park Union Church at 363-6063.