SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Looking for loose change to feed a parking meter might also help feed the homeless and ward off panhandling, say sponsors of a new charity program unveiled in Utah’s capital on Thursday.
City officials and advocates for the poor unveiled the first of up to a dozen bright red converted parking meters being installed downtown to accept coins on behalf of a foundation for the homeless rather than for municipal coffers.
The donation meters are part of a larger program the city and business leaders are initiating to help ease homelessness and a growing presence of panhandlers in Salt Lake City.
Program organizers do not expect meter donations themselves to provide huge amounts of money, but downtown merchants and restaurants can purchase a one-year sponsorship of a meter near their business for $1,500.
The meters are intended, in part, to address the reluctance of some people to give money to panhandlers “who may or may not be homeless, who may use it to purchase narcotics or to pay for alcohol,” police spokeswoman Michelle Ross said.
“The people who shop downtown, work downtown, who live downtown, we want them to know that you would have better luck by giving to a meter which goes into a foundation that actually supports the homeless service providers,” Ross said.
Ross says Salt Lake borrowed the concept from other cities but tailored its program to include public education and outreach components that address underlying issues related to panhandling.
In addition to the donation meters, police officers responding to calls about aggressive panhandling carry reference cards with service-provider information.
“We have veterans, we have people with mental illness, and we’re trying to connect them with services,” Ross said.
Money collected from the meters will go to the Pamela J. Atkinson Foundation, which will distribute the proceeds to a variety of homeless services in the city.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan