The City Council’s Human Services Committee has voted unanimously to make free beach tokens available to social service agencies for distribution to lower income families this summer.

The committee at its meeting last night asked city staff to develop a formal proposal for approval by the full City Council outlining which agencies would get tokens and how many to provide under the one-year pilot program.

Committee members also voted to raise income guidelines so that more residents would qualify for the city’s existing reduced-price token program and to continue a plan in which social service agencies receive free passes to hold youth program events on the city’s beaches.

Sandra Hill, director of the Family Focus center at 2010 Dewey Ave., said, “I see children every summer who’ve never gone to the beach. They just go to the park, which is free, and sit on the grass. It hurts me every summer to see that.”

Their families can’t afford it, Ms. Hill said, “So to save face the kids end up lying and telling their friends things like, ‘I don’t want to get in that water, it’s probably polluted.’”

“I think we have to increase access to the beaches now. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s an investment in our youth,” she said.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the city has limited funds “and a whole bunch of competing interests.”

Although he voted for the pilot program, he suggested free beach access may not be the most important value for a lot of families with limited means.

“As a boy I didn’t go to the beaches and didn’t go to the Y,” Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “My mother spent the money to send me to St. Mary’s and to pay for it.”

“Let’s fight for equity and teach people how to fish, create a more comprehensive youth program that assists youth to learn what they have to do to survive in this society and not just invest in a couple more free days at the beach and think we’ve done something qualitiative to improve their lives,” he said.

City Parks Director Doug Gaynor told aldermen just 55 beach tokens were distributed last year under the city’s existing reduced-price token program. Mr. Gaynor said that some additional beach usage could be handled without raising program costs, but hiring just one additional lifeguard would raise costs for the season by about $9,100.

Daily Northwestern – City could waive fee for beach

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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