Berkeley Vouchers Aid the Homeless

Cambridge Officials Examining Proposal to Offer Food, Services to Panhandlers

Students, businesses and city officials of Berkeley, California have united in support of a program which allows people to offer redeemable vouchers, instead of cash, to the area's panhandlers, a plan in which some Cambridge City Councillors are taking interest.

Under the Berkeley program, local businesses sign up to participate in the "Berkeley Cares Program" to either sell or redeem the vouchers, which panhandlers can use to purchase food, pay for public transportation or even do their laundry.

But recipients of the vouchers cannot use them to buy alcohol and tobacco, "or anything else self-destructive," said Leland S. Johnson, a homeless outreach clinician affiliated with the Berkeley Cares Program.

"Basically, it's an alternative for people," Johnson said. "People can go into stores or businesses and buy vouchers and give them to people in the street."

Other cities--including Baltimore and Seattle--have begun efforts similar to the Berkeley Cares Program, according to Byron A. Kemp, a member of the program's board of directors.


City Councillors in Cambridge expressed approval of the efforts in Berkeley.

Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55 said he had heard of the program and has been trying to find out more about it over the past several weeks.

"I guess what we have to do is try to get a description of it and see if it works and if we could adopt it for use here," Duehay said.

The merchants association of Berkeley and the University Student Union provided the initial funding for the program, which began last July, according to Johnson.

"The latest figure we have has about 88 thousand of the 25 cent vouchers sold with 70 percent redeemed," Kemp said.

Johnson said the program's current goals are to inform more panhandlers about the variety of services for which they can use the vouchers, as well as helping to educate people about poverty and homelessness.

"The program has brought a lot of people in to participate who may not have helped the homeless before," Kemp said.