A new cashless voucher system will let the public help the homeless without giving them money that can be spent on drugs and alcohol.
The Mi-change vouchers were launched on Thursday June 23. They have been introduced by U-turn and MES (Mould, Empower and Serve), both non-profit organisations fighting poverty and helping the homeless.
U-turn has been using vouchers for more than 10 years, but they were previously only available at the organisation’s service centres and could only be used for meals or clothing.
“Mi-change is a voucher system that replaces cash as a way to assist people in need on the streets. Instead of members of the public giving cash, they purchase vouchers from shops or online, to give to people,” said U-turn spokeswoman Rowen Ravera-Bauer.
The homeless can redeem the Mi-change vouchers for a meal, clothing, toiletries, a shower, blankets or a safe space to sleep for the night.
The vouchers also offer access to support groups, group therapy, rehabilitation and work opportunities.
“During these winter months, in particular, the Mi-change voucher enables you to help make it someone’s last winter on the streets,“ said Anelle Erasmus, MES’s fund-raising and marketing manager.
One Mi-change pack costs R50 and includes four vouchers. For each voucher redeemed, R10 goes to the partnering service provider where it is redeemed.
“Mi-change vouchers take care of immediate short term needs to relieve the symptoms of homelessness, as well as longer term solutions to the larger problem a person faces,” said Ms Ravera-Bauer.
According to the Cost of Homelessness in Cape Town report, compiled by Jonathan Hopkins, James Reaper, Sam Vos and Gemma Brough in 2020, the public gives more than R280 million in cash to people begging on the streets in a year. U-turn says this cash is often used to fuel addiction and enable homelessness.
“Over 70% of the people on our streets struggle with addiction. The more we provide money to people in need, the longer they will remain on the streets and the harder it becomes for us to rehabilitate and help the person to rebuild their lives of independence,” said Ms Ravera-Bauer.
Ms Erasmus said: “While the public who provide cash are compassionate and well-intended, the cash fuels addiction, creates dependence, and enables chronic homelessness, making it harder for people to leave the streets. Vouchers are both the kind and responsible way to respond.“
Both MES and U-turn have been using their own voucher system in their respective organisations.
“We realised if we have one voucher which can be used anywhere in Cape Town we empower the public to give more easily and more responsibly. By partnering we can reach a bigger market and have deeper impact in our work,” said Ms Erasmus.
“The moment a homeless person enters our office we have the opportunity to start engagement and the pathway to rehabilitation.”
Vouchers are redeemable at any partnering service provider displaying a Mi-change sign. There are redemption points across the southern and northern suburbs.
U-turn and MES are also in talks with potential partners in central Cape Town, Strand, Table View, and Gordon’s Bay to make the vouchers accessible to more people. For more information, visit Michange.org