No small change for parking? No problem

University of Georgia student, Samantha Connelly, struggles to find the change needed to ensure that she will not receive the $10 parking ticket for an expired meter.

“Sometimes it’s so frustrating trying to get together the change you need,” said Samantha Connelly.  “I hardly ever carry loose change with me and have to plan to grab some if I know I’ll be parking downtown,” she said.

Connelly is not alone in her struggled search for change.  The search  is off because the City of Athens has installed new Pay and Display parking meters to help customers like Connelly as well as the businesses where she is likely to shop and eat.

The new Pay and Display parking meters were installed on Clayton and Broad Streets in January of this year.  The stations have just recently come into use on March 22nd.  These new pay stations will replace many of the former coin deposit meters that lined the streets of downtown.

The Pay and Display machines were installed partially to alleviate the problem of downtown business owners and customers not having correct change.  Whether for work or play, patrons should be provided easier accessibility to parking in order to engage in a pleasant time downtown.  These new Pay and Display machines provide patrons with the option of $1 bills, credit and debit cards as forms of payment, in addition to the usual spare change.

“We think it will be a real convenience for downtown customers,” said Kathryn Lookofsky, executive director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority.  “So few people carry cash on them any more; they do carry credit or debit cards,” Lookofsky, told the Athens Banner Herald.

Another advantage to the new machines is that patrons can take the same receipt and use it in multiple parking spaces until the time expires.  Cars can be moved to various parking spots throughout downtown as long as the time on the ticket is paid for and is still valid.

The new parking stations are eco-friendly, solar powered and easier on the eyes.  Their sleek and modern look is similar to the Pay and Display stations that are currently in use throughout cities such as the beach on Tybee Island, downtown Savannah and Atlanta.

Each Pay and Display parking station will replace 10 of the inconvenient, outdated and irreparable parking meters.  With 16 Pay and Display stations in place, 160 old meters will be uninstalled and removed from the streets of downtown Athens.

To date, the old meters are still standing but are no longer in use.  They bare a sticker instructing patrons to visit the nearby Pay and Display station.  The old meters are being replaced because the technology was obsolete, director of the Downtown Athens Parking System, Laura Miller, told the Red and Black.

While the way you pay may be changing, the parking rates are to remain the same.  All metered parking spots are 50 cents per hour with a maximum rate of two hours.  The exception being the sectored 36 minute meters, according to the Athens Downtown Development Authority Web site.  The meters are monitored and restrictions are enforced Monday through Saturday from 8:00AM until 7:00PM.

The ADDA manages the Downtown Athens Parking System which includes 750 short-term, on-street spaces throughout Downtown.  Additionally, DAPS is in control of four surface lots for monthly parking, and the College Avenue Parking Deck for hourly, daily and monthly parking.

The Pay and Display system is a joint partnership of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and the Athens Dowtnwon Development Authority.  Additionally, Transportation and Public Works Street and Drainage Division assisted with the installation of the meters.

The convenience of the upgraded pay stations are appreciated by those who have previously struggled to find enough spare change.  With the new process of parking payments, merchants can enjoy the ease and practicality found with the new pay stations.


Rise in homelessness follows U.S. trend

On any given night in Athens, Ga., there are 100 to 500 homeless individuals looking for a place to sleep, according to a University of Georgia campus campaign known as Host. Nourish. Sustain.

Athens is a city that 114,737 people call home, according to a Kiplinger magazine article, but the city is no exception to the rise in homelessness that is occurring across the nation.  In 2006, data from the ACC department of Human and Economic Development reported the number of identified homeless individual grew 180 percent in the recent years.

With the recession taking its effect, it is predicted that 1.5 million people will become homeless across the nation over the next two years, according to Host. Nourish. Sustain.  Currently, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people throughout America are considered to be homeless, the campaign reports.

The federal definition of a homeless person is an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, according to the McKinney Act of 1987.  (SEE BOX)

Many Americans are less than two paychecks away from finding themselves unable to pay rent.  A recent study reported by a Business Journal article, revealed that 47 percent of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck in order to make ends meet.

Danny Bivins works with Athens-Clarke County through a comprehensive planning process to coordinate and work with government agencies and non-profit groups.  He describes his job as helping people envision their future and then helping them create it.

“Athens must be looked at through the social services lens,” said Bivins.  “[It] is a metropolitan area and has plenty of social services within the community.  If you’re going to be an impoverished person, it’s much better to do so in Athens than it would be in some of the surrounding counties.”

“Rarely is homelessness a direct correlation to housing,” said Bivins.  “There are also mental and healthcare issues.  It’s not necessarily an economic question; there are other factors, too.”

“Homelessness is not just about having a place to live, but it’s a state of mind and state of being where there is a disconnect and feeling of alienation,” said Donna Bliss, University of Georgia professor at the School of Social Work.

Across the nation, there are movements and campaigns to raise awareness about homelessness as a means to reduce the stigmas attached to homeless individuals.

Last year, 12-year-old, Zach Bonner walked 1,225 miles from Florida to the White House on behalf of homeless children.  On Dec. 25th, 2009, Bonner, began a second trek consisting of 2,478 miles from Florida to California to help spread the word about homelessness and ways to contribute to the cause.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness works to put an end to homelessness by building and disseminating knowledge that informs policy change, according to their Web site.  They provide comprehensive strategies to eradicate homelessness, which include 234 completed community plans to help reduce and eliminate the number of homeless people across the country.

In Athens, an effort is also being made to address the homeless situation and identify solutions to the problem.  Athens is a microcosm of several causes to becoming homeless, said Bliss.

There are several organizations and campaigns to specifically identify and attempt to resolve the homelessness and poverty issue that is prevalent in Athens-Clarke County.

On the University of Georgia campus, Host. Nourish. Sustain. is a movement to implement the concept of good old, southern hospitality as a “recipe to fight homelessness in Athens,” according to their tag line.

The Host. Nourish. Sustain. campaign has a goal to invite volunteers in the community to alleviate the issue of homelessness by hosting, nourishing and sustaining homeless families in order to improve their situation and achieve long-term independence.

“The campaign is intended to dispel common myths and stereotypes, said spokesperson reigning Ms. Georgia, Laura Lyn McLeod, “to create a better understanding of reality of the situation.”

Year after year, Athens is one of Georgia’s consistently poorest counties with a poverty rate of 28.3 percent. In Athens-Clarke County, the cost of living is between $11 and $13 an hour.  This type of pay is difficult to find, especially if you don’t have an address.

Lynne Griever, Faces of the Homeless Speakers Bureau, found herself with no place to live as a result of domestic violence and was not able to get the help and police protection she needed.  Despite the common myths associated with being homeless, Griever said, “There was no use of drugs or alcohol, and I was not lazy.”  Griever said she learned firsthand that you can work really, really hard and not be able to get into housing.

In Athens-Clarke, 65 percent of all families that live in poverty are working in the community, which is 12.1 percent greater than the state as whole.

OneAthens is taking action to end poverty in Athens and works as “Partners for a Prosperous Athens” within the community.

Since their inception in 2006, their Web site lists that OneAthens main initiatives include creating jobs and career readiness, building community infrastructure, promoting health and wellness and increasing capacity and accessibility of needed services.  Their vision is to “unite the community in identifying and removing barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

The inability to afford housing is rising across the country, and is increasingly prevalent in Athens, efforts are being made throughout the city of Athens to identify the cause, eliminate the stigma and reduce the number of homeless individuals.

Box:

The definition also states that a person is homeless if they have a primary nighttime residence that is:

A. A supervised, publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide

temporary living accommodations,

B. An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to

be institutionalized,

C. Or,  a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as regular

sleeping accommodation for human beings.



Cigarette buts are most-littered item

The final drag of a cigarette is inhaled, held in the mouth and slowly exhaled as satisfaction consumes the smoker.  The cigarette has done its job and is now flicked to the ground on a downtown Athens street corner.

Cigarette butts are the most littered item in America, according to a BioCycle article.  Across the world, several trillion cigarette butts are improperly disposed of every year.  Cigarette butts are not biodegradable, according to Why Quit Web site.  As a result it can take up to 15 years for the fibers in cigarette butts to decay, releasing deadly cargo as they do.

Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful works towards a cleaner, more beautiful community by improving attitudes and behaviors regarding the environment, according to their Web site.  KACCB initiatives include creating programs that focus on the reduction of litter, beautification efforts and overall community improvement.

The KACCB division is a non-profit organization that is housed under the Solid Waste Department.  This organization collaborates with other non-profits and government agencies to create programs that benefit the community and encourage good recycling and litter reduction behaviors, executive director, Stacee Farrell explained.

Through the KACCB, research was conducted by J House Media which revealed that people feel it’s okay to litter in the following situations:

1. Where litter is cleaned up periodically – such as parking lots or movie theaters.

2. Where people feel no sense of ownership – such as public parks and city streets.

3. Where there is already an accumulation of litter.

Farrell explained the difficulties in combating the littering of cigarette butts because of the active nightlife that takes place on the streets on downtown on a regular basis.  “Because there’s no smoking inside of the bars, everyone is outside and therefore there are butts all along the ground and in the storm drains,” said Farrell.  “People need a place to put them.”

Farrell points out a fact that many people seem to forget: Littering is a crime.  “When you put a piece of trash on the ground, you are breaking the law.”  In the state of Georgia, you can be fined up to $1,000 for littering just one single item out of your car window.

Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful encourages motorists to report littering on the road by calling a litter hotline with the culprit’s tag number and description as well as the time, date and location of the occurrence.  The response from this hotline has been a positive one with several call-ins throughout the week.

Keep Athens Clarke-County Beautiful is combatting the littering problem that consumes the Athens area by creating the Cigarette Fairy public awareness campaign.  This campaign poses a cigarette fairy who begs the question, “Who DO you think is picking up the cigarette butts?”

The idea is for the campaign to ask smokers to take personal responsibility and to put waste in its place, according to the KACCB Web site.  The Cigarette Fairy Litter Prevention Campaign received a First Place Award at the Keep Georgia Beautiful Awards Luncheon in October, according to the Waste Department Web site.

In addition to the awareness campaign, a series of 40 Cigarette Litter Receptacles (CLRs) have been installed on parking meters throughout parts of downtown Athens, according to the Solid Waste Department Web site.  These receptacles are intended to provide smokers with  place to dispose of their trash in a place other than the ground.

The CLR initiative is a partnership project with several government agencies in the Athens-Clarke area.  Since the smoking ban in 2005, the group has been brainstorming ways to reduce the cigarette butt litter downtown.

In addition to targeting the littering of cigarette butts, Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful is also running a “Seriously…y’all still litter?” advertising campaign that incorporates a sarcastic tone through a lighthearted message.  This campaign is an effort to encourage people to question their own behaviors and break the littering cycle.

The “Seriously…y’all still litter campaign” won a first place Litter Prevention Awarded which was presented to the Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful division of the Solid Waste Department.  The campaign was also chosen as the 2009 Outstanding Public Education Program by the Solid Waste Association of North America’s Georgia Chapter.

Farrell said she appreciates that the citizens of Athens tend to be conscious of the environment and good about trash cans and using cigarette receptacles.  “I think we’re all on the same page as far as maintaining the integrity of the historic environment,” said Farrell.


Athens Housing Authority Advance Meeting

The Athens Housing Authority obtains about $2 million, annually, in capital funds to be used for renovations and projects to improve the housing units within the Athens-Clark County community.  This stimulus money is received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Athens Housing Authority works in conjunction with the local, state and federal governments as an independent agency to provide affordable and convenient housing for those in need, serving the Athens-Clarke County area.

The Athens Housing Authority is conveniently located in their upgraded facility at 300 S. Rocksprings Street.  On Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 at 4:30 the AHA will hold a board meeting at this location to discuss the best use of the stimulus money. Some of these topics are to include budgetary issues, changes and upgrades to some of their neighborhoods and other topics of interest to the Athens community.

According to their Web site, http://www.athenshousing.org, the Athens Housing Authority is one of the largest providers of affordable rental housing in the Athens-Clarke Country area.  In total, the Athens Housing Authority manages and administers 1,255 dwelling units for approximately 3,300 residents, including many families. The AHA operates from a property-based management standpoint, meaning the 12 neighborhoods they run and maintain are segmented into five groups as a means to better serve their residents.

According to a news release, the housing authority will receive $2 million in economic stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

From the news release issued by the Athens Housing Authority: “We must obligate the funds to construction projects that can be started within a short time of receiving the money,” Athens Housing Authority Rick Parker said.  According to the release, some of the ARRA funds will be implemented for renovation projects to update the interiors of approximately 75 housing units, replace the elevator system at Denney Tower, replace roofs and windows at 75 units, and also to replace plumbing fixtures in about 250 housing units.

These projects are necessary to the improvement of the housing facilities and will in turn create a more livable and convenient environment for the residents.  “We already had several projects planned for the next two to three years and the ARRA funds will allow us to begin the work earlier than we had anticipated,” Parker stated.

Property manager as well as marketing and communications director, Marilyn Appleby, explained that the Athens Housing Authority is required to follow federal regulations with regard to the way they spend the AHA spends their money. The Athens Housing Authority receives a portion of their budget from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Appleby said that 50 percent of AHA money comes from the federal government and 50 percent comes from the rent that the residents pay.  Appleby explained, the federal government money is delegated as federated money and is held accountable to the government.  Non-federated money is money the AHA acquires through various sources and can be used somewhat more flexibly.

In addition, the Housing Authority is allowed to issue housing revenue bonds to build subsidized housing, and the AHA receives the interest accrued on the bonds.  This interest collected from the bonds is considered to be non-federated money and as a result, the Athens Housing Authority can implement the use of that money a little more freely to benefit the residents and the community.  This meeting will discuss the disbursement of the ARRA stimulus money, and interest accrued money in the most beneficial way for the residents and the surrounding community.

Another matter of importance to be discussed is the senior citizen hi-rise, Denney Tower.  Districted to property management group five, Denney Tower is located in the middle of downtown Athens at Dougherty and Pulaski streets. Denney provides housing for the elderly, ages 62 years and older. At the meeting, there is to be discussion with regard to the 25 units at Denney Tower and the need for a two-year renewal in order for Denney to maintain its designation as an elderly-only facility.  If this renewal is not approved, options may have to be considered to extend the age limitations for the residents.

The advantage to the age-specific segmentation is that Denney will be able to continually serve people of similar age at one location.  Congress addressed this national problem about five years ago when they passed a regulation for specified housing units to be regulated by the age-elderly only.

Plan to attend the board meeting held at 4:30 on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at the Athens Housing Authority building on Rocksprings Street.