May 24, 2010

Meters for homeless people? Not those kind of meters

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Springfield, OR, just became the latest city to add "parking meters" to its streets as a way to reduce panhandling and pay for services for people who are without homes.

They've installed  "meters." So instead of paying a quarter or two for a half hour of parking, passersby  plug 50-cents in the red parking meters to provide a shower for a homeless person. You can do more — $1 is a hot meal, $3 is a bus pass and $5 supplies a sleeping bag. The Eugene Register Guard reports the program is administered by St. Vincent De Paul, which collects the money and makes sure it goes directly into services for homeless people.

The Springfield effort is modeled on a program in Denver, which helped get folks off the street and into shelter. A report there found that after 18 months the project resulted in a 92 percent reduction in the number of panhandlers in the downtown improvement district. They've also caught on around the country and in Canada, including Montreal and Ottawa. Portland, just up I-5, also has a "meters for the homeless" effort underway.

Some homeless advocates, however, don't like the concept, as Matt Palmquist reported in Miller-McCune Online.

Homeless advocates, needless to say, are not thrilled with the idea. As Sister Bernie Galvin, executive director of Religious Witness with Homeless People, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “Forget the children, forget the mothers who are struggling to raise their family homeless or in inadequate housing,” she said. “Will the city never give up on trying to find ways to make the lives of homeless people harder?”

Palmquist also points out that such efforts typically don't raise a lot of money; Portland's effort, for example, only raised $10,000 after several years.

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