Portland nonprofit creates currency for homeless

Portland nonprofit creates currency for homeless »Play Video
The nonprofit Sanctity of Hope is distributing tokens to the community and the homeless to pay for goods and services at participating businesses. (Photo by Dan Cassuto, KATU News)

PORTLAND, Ore. – You probably walk or drive by panhandlers all the time. You might not give them any money, but plenty of people do.

Do you ever wonder what they buy?

Travis Vanstaaveren says he’s found something better to give than cash.

“It’s a homeless currency. A Lot of people don't want to give (the) homeless cash, so they buy tokens from us,” he said.

Vanstaaveren is the Executive Director of Sanctity of Hope, a nonprofit run by volunteers who are distributing tokens in the community that the homeless can use to buy goods and services at participating businesses. They can't use them to buy cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.

“I didn’t have too much trouble giving cash to the homeless,” said Vanstaaveren. “I figured it was not up to me what they did with the money. But I knew a lot of people who did care, but wanted to give.”

Homeless man Dee Stewart said he makes about $50 per day panhandling downtown. He said he uses money to buy food, cigarettes and sometimes a motel room.

“There are some that would go out and do drugs with it,” Stewart said. “I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I feed my wife. I feed myself and sometimes put us up in a motel if we get enough.”

Vanstaaveren’s tokens cost one dollar each. He said he has about 12 businesses on board with idea. One token can buy a taco. Two can buy a clean shirt.

“I think the best use of a token is individual,” said Vanstaaveren. “One on one.”

Tokens only buy what people need rather than what they might want.

"I'm trying to get back on my feet," said Stewart.