A panhandler downtown may not be homeless, or hungry, or even jobless.
In fact some in the city’s “professional” group of panhandlers can make as much as $100 a day.
That revenue could augment real services to end homelessness, feed the truly hungry, and maybe even job training to turn a life around.
Those stark points differentiating the problem of panhandling from that of homelessness emerged Monday as the city launched its “Give Change To Make Change” initiative.
The centerpiece of the initiative is the installation of ten charity meters on downtown streets that function exactly like parking meters — only the change you put in them (credit cards are accepted as well) will go 100 percent to homeless services.
Mayor Toni Harp, city transportation czar Doug Hausladen, Market New Haven Marketing Manager Bruno Bagetta, and Town Green Special Services District Executive Director Win Davis were among two dozen officials on hand for a press conference Monday afternoon in the atrium of City Hall, where a model of the “Give Change To Make Change” meters was unveiled.
Donations through the meters go fully for homeless services, said Davis, one of the lead organizers of the campaign.
“We are the only city in the state of Connecticut supporting homeless[ness services] with city dollars,” said Hausladen.
That’s a budget line item of about $1 million each year.
The income generated by the meters as well as an online portal, givechangetomakechange.com goes 100 percent to that cause, he added.
The meters have all been donated by the IPS Group, a parking meter company headquartered San Diego. It has provided the ten-meter launches of such campaigns in cities across the country, including Denver; Missoula, Montana; and Albuquerque, N.M.
Hausladen said New Haven’s program is modeled generally after the Albuquerque.
Four out of the ten meters have already been installed on sidewalks like parking meters, but recessed from the curb and painted bright tangerine and yellow.
The locations of the four include the Crown Street Garage, the New Haven Parking Garage at Union Station, College Street near the Shubert, and on York Street near the Yale Rep.
The “Give Change To Make Change” meters operate exactly like parking meters, accepting cards and coins. Credit card and coin donations at the meter are funneled to the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation.
Hausladen said it will use them to augment $25,000 that the foundation already deploys annually to three city charities dealing with the homeless: Columbus House, Liberty Community Services, and Youth Continuum.
If you give online, those funds go directly to Liberty Community Services, which among other activities, runs the Sunrise Cafe, the daily breakfast program for the homeless at the Church of St. Paul & St. James at Chapel and Olive streets.
Yale Medical School post-doc William Khoury-Hanold liked the idea of the meters. But as many times as he’s walked by the one on College Street near the Shubert, he had never understood how they worked until a reporter explained.
Explanatory devices at the meters are forthcoming, as the rollout continues.
Khoury-Hanold identified a thorny ethical problem: The meters are all “safe” because they “give us a little more leeway to avoid that human interaction on the street,” he said.
To maintain the meters, to get the word out about them, and to process the donations, the initiative is looking for corporate sponsor, said Market New Haven’s Baggeta.
Officials also want the public to suggest at which other locations the six remaining meters should be deployed. If you have an idea or strong feelings on the matter, you can communicate that by going to the website, Hausladen added.