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Brother, Can You Spare A Dime—For The Meter?

by Thomas MacMillan | May 1, 2014 7:55 am

(24) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Social Services, City Budget

Ten new parking meters may soon appear downtown, not to collect change for cars parked on the street, but to help the people asking for change on the sidewalk.

City traffic tsar Doug Hausladen and his deputy, Mike Mohler, sketched out that idea for alders Wednesday night in City Hall, during their testimony at a marathon Finance Committee budget hearing.

As part of the Finance Committee’s study of Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed $511 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, alders Wednesday heard testimony from a number of city departments seeking to justify their piece of city spending.

While listing the plans and achievements of his Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking, Hausladen revealed a plan in the works to create a new way for people to give money to fund social services for the hungry or homeless.

The plan, modeled on programs in other cities, would be called “Give Change to Make Change.” The city would install, at various spots downtown, parking meters that would collect donations for community services — like food for the hungry and shelter or getting-back-on-their-feet help for the homeless. Hausladen said the idea is still in the early stages, and the precise beneficiary is yet to be determined.

The meters would be installend not at parking spots, but installed in public spaces, where people could deposit coins or swipe credit cards to give money. The meters would be accompanied by signs explaining the program.

Hausladen has already secured the donation of 10 credit-card-accepting meters from the company that provides them to the city for parking-fee collection. Hausladen said the meter company, IPS Group, told him that helping people is part of its mission. It’s also hoping to showcase the program at an international parking convention in a few weeks, Mohler said.

Hausladen said he got the idea from a parking-themed calendar in Mohler’s office, which highlights Denver’s donation meter program. Denver is one of a number of cities that use parking meters to collect donations for the poor or homeless, including Virginia Beach, San Luis Obispo.

Mohler told alders Wednesday evening that the money collected would help the homeless, and that the availability of the meters would discourage panhandling. Denver reduced the number of panhandlers on one street by 80 percent, according to USA Today.

East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes said she’d like to see more study of the impact of the donation meters on panhandlers. “We don’t want to make anyone’s life harder.” She said she’d like to know more about where the donated money would go and if it would directly assist the people asking for money on the street.

Board of Alders President Jorge Perez said Hausladen needs to make a presentation to the appropriate alder committee, even if the idea is budget neutral.

Hausladen said later that he hopes to submit a detailed proposal to the Board of Alders in the next couple of weeks. The Give Change to Make Change meters could appear this summer.

In 1993, Matthew Lieberman and fellow Yale law students launched a program called New Haven Cares for people who wanted to give money to the homeless but felt uncomfortable giving out change to panhandlers because they weren’t sure how the donations would be used. Donors would purchase vouchers they would then hand to panhandlers; the panhandlers could use the vouchers at some participating food establishments. The program lasted a few years, with a later attempt to revive it.

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posted by: robn on May 1, 2014  8:31am

Our homeless contribution should be built into city and state budgets, not on an ad hoc basis and not linked to the first thing a visitor encounters when visiting the city.

posted by: ILivehere on May 1, 2014  8:59am

Great job Mr. Hausladen!!! I hope we will also see lots of signage directing people to give at the meter not at the corner. Ensure the homeless get food and not drugs while also improving the safety and enjoyment of our city for tourists and locals alike. Bravo!

posted by: Fairhavener on May 1, 2014  9:00am

This is a FANTASTIC idea! If the particulars can be worked out and the money goes only to emergency services directly (i.e. food, shelter, short term health needs), I don’t see any reason why not—I would certainly give change. The only things I would worry about is crowding already visually and physically busy sidewalks. Maybe a less permanent fixture can be thought of? However, if that is the only issue I find it minor.

Great thinking Traffic and Parking!

posted by: Threefifths on May 1, 2014  9:23am

How about parking meters that will help people pay for this tax hike that will be coming.

posted by: ILivehere on May 1, 2014  9:23am

Robn, The first thing a visitor encounters is a panhandler on every corner. This is a way to get the homeless the services they need as well as get the public to stop encouraging panhandling. Its win win.

posted by: Kevin on May 1, 2014  10:27am

Robn, the city’s support for homeless shelters and services is built into its budget and the Department of Social Services programs for the homeless are built into the state budget. This is a mechanism for visitors and residents to make voluntary contributions to a very visible problem. (While a parking meter may be the first thing a visitor sees, the street people make a larger impression.)

Cities using this approach include Atlanta (where I first saw this approach), Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Little Rock, Nashville, San Francisco, and Seattle

posted by: ILivehere on May 1, 2014  10:35am

@Threefifths
Every parking meter (and parking ticket) in the city contributes toward bringing down the budget. Hopefully we can get some angled parking around the green to slow traffic and generate more revenue.

posted by: middle on May 1, 2014  10:38am

I don’t understand why this would work, but it seems to work well in Denver.

If New Haven can get sponsors to pay for the meters (like Denver did), there doesn’t seem to be any downside to trying them here.

posted by: wendy1 on May 1, 2014  11:39am

If you really want to help, show up at the Mayor’s office 2nd Fl. 165 Church St. tomorrow Friday at 1:30 when the River St. Project will be presented by J-HOP, ACT, and the homeless themselves.  We are asking to use River St. 9 acres of city-owned land to build homeless housing for hundreds including a free clinic mannned by med. and nursing students and a social work office ON-SITE.  We can get Fed. $$ if the city GIVES us permission to use this land.  Please come—30-min. presentation.

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on May 1, 2014  12:13pm

Love this idea! Innovative and efficient.
How about instituting little free libraries in new haven as well?
http://www.littlefreelibrary.org

posted by: Scot on May 1, 2014  12:28pm

@wendy1 - By River St, do you mean the vacant land on the waterfront?  I’m all for building housing for the homeless. However, I don’t think waterfront property would be the best place.  The reason I say this is waterfront property has much more value than other areas. I know it’s vacant now, but in the future it could be used for a number of marine-related businesses (shipping, manufacturing, tourism, a marina, etc). All things that could bring jobs and money to the city.  I would think the property could also generate significant tax revenue if developed in other ways.

Is there any other underutilized land/buildings in the city that could be used for homeless housing?  (Again, just to clarify I like the idea of creating more housing for the homeless, I’m just questioning the use of waterfront property).

posted by: Nathan on May 1, 2014  12:58pm

Separate from the idea of public fund raising, I don’t understand how this would reduce the amount of panhandling.  How does someone putting some change into a meter satisfy some panhandler looking to score for their next fix?  They’ll be happy that the nice citizen supported social programs and walk away with a smile?  The vouchers were a much better idea in terms of offering a substitute donation that couldn’t be (easily) used to purchase drugs.

posted by: ILivehere on May 1, 2014  1:11pm

@Nathan,
The idea would be to educate the public through signage similar to this http://media.cmgdigital.com/shared/img/photos/2012/03/31/25/a0/homeless_sign2_610918a.jpg
or this http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/give/

and through other means to not give directly but to contribute at these special meters.

posted by: NewHaven06513 on May 1, 2014  3:18pm

Hausladen great idea!

posted by: TheMadcap on May 1, 2014  4:03pm

River st is a mess that’s been in “development” since god knows when. I’m tired of fanciful ideas of large scale industry returning or the idea that it will ever be “waterfront property” in the real estate sense anytime within the next two decades(I mean really, who wants to open anything that isn’t industry where you have a lovely view of I-91 and the tank farm 500ft across the river in the harbor facilities). Using it for the homeless is infinitely better than what most of it is currently being used for(re: nothing) especially if it brings in the federal dollars, not to mention the increase in people there, both the homeless and the people who will be operating the center might make other places pop up in the area.  Good luck tomorrow Wendy and others.

posted by: absolutmakes on May 1, 2014  4:13pm

Seems like I’m in the minority here, but while I love the creative idea I don’t think I can get behind this.

Something just seems off about the message it sends visitors. Kind of like being asked for $1 or $2 every time I check out at: Stop n Shop, Lowes, PetSmart, etc. Gets real annoying, real fast.

posted by: Threefifths on May 1, 2014  4:19pm

What next.Use parking Meters to register people to vote.

posted by: cunningham on May 1, 2014  4:25pm

“Spare any change, mister?”
“Sorry, I already donated it to the homeless.”

posted by: robn on May 1, 2014  4:57pm

My arguments against this are threefold

1) Its not going to reduce panhandling.

2) Its a low impact measure that may assuage guilt but won’t raise funds as well as a good fistfight under the dome in Hartford.

3) The appropriate time to ask for funds for the homeless is in the legislature…not when you’re greeting people about to come into the city to enjoy themselves…its a downer.

posted by: ILivehere on May 1, 2014  6:11pm

@robn I disagree I think if you can teach people its wrong to give to panhandlers (and get them to stop) That the panhandlers will go where people do give them money. You cant tell people not to give to the homeless particularly in this town without giving them an option. Give at the meter not at the corner be part of the solution not the problem.

posted by: LookOut on May 1, 2014  6:25pm

Its always good to find ways to help the downtrodden.  I agree that a portion (25%, 50 %?) of the meters should be earmarked for funds to help those oppressed by the DeStefano/Harp tax system.  Maybe a way to help middle class folks hold on to their houses.

posted by: Scot on May 2, 2014  11:15am

@madcap, the office complex at 555 Long Wharf Drive sits very close to the River St property.  They have the same view of 91 and the tank farm.  That property sits on 2.3 acres and is assessed at $45 million, which means it brings in about $2 million of taxes EVERY YEAR for the city (you can look it up on vision appraisal). The River St property is 9 acres (4 x bigger).  That office complex also means jobs.  It houses Covidien headquarters and a number of other businesses that bring jobs to New Haven.

Of course it doesn’t have to be an office complex, there are any number of possible uses.

posted by: Jones Gore on May 5, 2014  5:43pm

I work in the shelter system, which is just a holding pattern for many unemployed men who are not able to find work that would enable them to pay for an apartment.

Maybe this money can be used to fund jobs for the homeless who are able to work.

This money should not be used to fund anymore programs that hire people just to work with homeless.

posted by: Jones Gore on May 5, 2014  5:52pm

East Rock Elder Jessica Holmes doesn’t want to make like harder for people who are panhandling.  She needs to walk around downtown on the 1st,2nd,3rd of the month and see the people who get foods stamps panhandling.

This program will not stop anyone who wants to panhandle unless you are giving money directly to them. So the idea should be hire those who are panhandling and pay them with the money collected. And make sure visitors know of the program so that they will not give any money.

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