Vouchers For the Homeless?

Until three months ago, "Red" spent his nights in Cambridge homeless shelters and on the front doorstep of the Harvard Cooperative Society.

Today, "Red," who would not give his full name, is no longer homeless, and sells the newspaper "Spare Change" instead of begging for money in Harvard Square.

Begging, Red said, is tough. Tough because many passersby won't give money to people who they think will spend it on alcohol.

"People were afraid to give cash," said Red. "People thought you wanted money for booze, but I don't drink."

Now, a city program in New Haven, Conn., may present a way to give to thehomeless while guaranteeing that the money will gofor food or other necessities.

Under a program instituted earlier this month,New Haven merchants sell vouchers that people canpurchase and give to the homeless. Homeless peoplecan then redeem these vouchers at localconvenience stores for food and other necessities,but not for cash, alcohol, tobacco, or lotterytickets.


Organized by Yale Law School's New Haven Caresprogram, the plan has received contributions fromNew Haven entrepreneurs, churches and socialservice agencies. New Haven is the sixth city inthe nation to offer such a program.

New Haven Cares Executive Director MatthewLieberman, a third-year student at Yale LawSchool, said the program has been popular.

"Early indications are that the vouchers areselling very quickly and that people are enjoyinghaving this new option to help," Lieberman said."People on the street are also enjoying theprogram and are redeeming the vouchers."

Squaregoers interviewed yesterday expressedsupport for a program like that of New Haven.

Nicole C. Dente '97 said a voucher system wouldencourage her to donate to the homeless.

"I generally don't give out money," Dente said."I would be more willing to give out vouchers if Iknew they wouldn't be used for drugs and alcohol."

Pastor Susan P. Thomas of the UniversityLutheran Church, which runs a homeless shelter inCambridge, also said she liked the idea.

"Giving out money is always problematic; younever know what people will do with it," Thomassaid. "We have tried to radically limit the moneywe give out."

Della L. Peckumn, who was visiting Cambridgefrom California, said she had already encountereda homeless person in the Square who seemed to beusing donations for alcohol.

"Last night we saw a homeless man with a bottleof booze in one hand and a [collection] cup in theother, "Peckumn said