Health, housing and hope: Owner of new South Loop smoothie shop offers jobs for people experiencing homelessness
After providing temporary shelter in hotel rooms for homeless people during Chicago’s polar vortex in 2019, entrepreneur Candice Payne wondered, “What can I do permanently?”
You may have heard of Candice Payne.
She made headlines in 2019 for leading an effort to purchase local hotel rooms to help 122 homeless people during Chicago’s frigid winter polar vortex. She was even invited onto the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where Walmart gifted her $50,000 dollars for her efforts.
And now the entrepreneur has found her newest way to help homeless people in Chicago.
On Thursday, Payne unveiled Smoothie RX on 1503 S. Michigan Ave.
The project began as a way to help her father live a longer life — and to keep herself healthy too. Around a year ago, Payne was diagnosed with diabetes. Payne hoped it would be an alternative to the fast and fried food she saw around the South Loop.
“Stop normalizing sickness,” the shop’s back wall reads in red lettering. “Improve gut health.” “Fight diabetes.”
It’s since evolved into something more — an important employment opportunity for people facing homelessness in Chicago.
Payne is partnering with A Safe Haven Foundation, which helps provide homeless people with the tools they need to transition back into society. She plans to hire 2 to 4 homeless people who have completed A Safe Haven trainings to work in Smoothie RX.
They could work in maintenance or prep, Payne said. She also needs people to help with street marketing — passing out fliers and smoothie samples.
Every month, Payne will also organize volunteers to pass out smoothies to people who are homeless.
It’s just one way that Payne is making a difference in the lives of homeless individuals in Chicago.
After her efforts during the polar vortex in 2019, “Something hit me,” Payne said.
“For five days, I was in a hotel with 122 homeless people,” Payne said. “I heard their stories, their cries, and I could not think about anything else but how can I be a permanent fixture — what can I do permanently?”
So through her nonprofit, Action for a Cause, she started buying real estate and renovating units — which she provided to homeless people for no rent for one year. Part of the proceeds from Smoothie RX will be donated to Action for a Cause to continue those efforts.
It’s not permanent, Payne said, but a transition period for those in need.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Payne visited her real estate office and found a woman and her son living on the floor of a conference room.
“She was shaking because she thought I was going to put her out,” Payne said.
Instead, Payne offered her an apartment.
Now, Payne said the woman has a job and has since moved to the South Side.
Another tenant, a young woman from A Safe Haven’s narcotics program, was able to find permanent housing while living in Payne’s building.
“I ain’t never seen anybody that happy to give me my keys back,” Payne said.
“Thank you for being my steps,” Payne said the woman told her. And that’s exactly what Payne said she wants to provide for homeless people in Chicago: a stepping stone.