Anti-panhandling meters effectivenes unknownPosted: February 25, 2011
By Abbey Joris
The parking meters read: “A donation here will provide help for the homeless. Please do not give cash to pan handlers.” There are four—one in front of Heery’s Clothes Closet, one in front of Starbucks Coffee, one in front of Yoguri and one in front of Five Guys Burgers and Fries—and the question is, do they work?
In 2003 the Athens Downtown Development Authority installed the meters to curb panhandling in the area. Many other cities around the country use this same technique. These cities include Nashville, Denver, Atlanta and Las Vegas, along with several others.
Denver is a city that has seen widespread success with this program as part of its Denver’s Road Home initiative to end homelessness in 10 years. The city has put 80 meters in place and raises $100,000 a year through both meter donation and meter sponsorship, according to denversroadhome.org.
Kathryn Lookofsky, director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, said that the meters are in place “to discourage people from giving cash or change to panhandlers on the street.”
The money collected from the meters goes to the Northeast Georgia Homeless Coalition. “The Homeless Coalition is a group of area service providers of people who serve the homeless population in the Northeast Georgia area,” said Michael McGough, executive director of the Stable Foundation and secretary for the Northeast Georgia Homeless Coalition.
The money obtained from the parking meters buys bus passes for the homeless.
“Bus passes are a very common need because most folks who are experiencing homelessness also have a severe need for transportation,” said McGough.
McGough said that bus passes instead of cash prevent the abuse of funds.
“They give those to the folks who are homeless and need transportation downtown so that we’ll know what that money is used for,” said McGough.
The Homeless Coalition received its last payment from the meters in December, McGough said. It was $300.
Despite Denver’s success, many of the other meter donation systems across the country have seen mixed opinions that range from successes to unknowns, and Athens is the same.
After almost eight years, the meters are still there and so is the panhandling.
“I think they help some but as long as people give them money, panhandlers will be there,” said Lookofsky.
Lookofsky said though she thinks that they help there is no way to measure it quantitatively.
“Folks don’t really think that there’s been much of a reduction in panhandling,” said McGough. “If local businesses were looking for it to reduce panhandling, that hasn’t really happened.”
Sergeant Derek Scott with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department said that while he thinks the panhandling has declined, he doesn’t give all of the credit to the meters.
“I think we’re getting more support as far as educating the public as far as the aggressive panhandling,” said Scott. “Just having officer presence down there has deterred it as well. I don’t think I could directly account the meters in declining the panhandling.”
A long-time employee of Heery’s Clothes Closet, who wished to remain anonymous, said she has been working there since she was a teenager. She said that she hoped they helped and thinks they do, despite the fact that panhandling still occurs.
Other employees of downtown businesses either don’t believe they have helped or just don’t know.
“I think that so few people use them and people just still give money, that I don’t know that they’ve done much at all,” said Dwight Tomlinson, an employee at Ben and Jerry’s who said he has been working downtown for seven years. “I’ve never seen people use them.”
As an employee at Starbucks for the past five years, Jason Corrigan said he has not paid attention to whether or not the meters have done anything. He also said that he is unsure of where the money goes but has seen buses transport the homeless from place to place.
Michael Leon Davenport, a local artist who’s been in downtown since he was 15, draws pictures of UGA and the arch and displays a sign that explains he accepts donations for art supplies.
Downtown Athens is home to several of these local artists and musicians, who play and draw for money, but Davenport isn’t a panhandler and said he doesn’t give panhandlers money; he tries to motivate them.
“They know for a fact that I do this for a hobby,” said Davenport. “I let them know I’m not stupid and I won’t support their habit.”
Davenport also said that he tries to work with the business owners to keep the panhandlers at bay.
Opinions throughout the downtown area differ regarding the effectiveness of the meters, and overall, it is clear that determining the actual impact is more of a guessing game than a numbers game. Some guesses are optimistic and others are not. One thing that isn’t a guess is that no one knows for sure.