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Manchester 'homeless meter' program seeks to deter panhandling

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 19. 2013 9:20PM

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to approve a plan Tuesday night to install “homeless meters” in six locations around the city, to collect donations to benefit the city’s most needy residents.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to get underway at 7:30 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers on the third floor of City Hall, One City Hall Plaza.

The proposal to install the meters was submitted earlier this month by Manchester Aldermen Pat Long, Ward 3, to the city’s Committee on Traffic. In the plan the devices are termed “Spare Change Meters.” They are repurposed coin-operated parking meters set up to collect donations for designated nonprofit organizations.

“People feel like they should be helping these people,” said Long prior to submitting the proposal. “You’re taught in church that you should help the less fortunate, and they feel guilty if they don’t.”

The idea is similar to programs already established in cities such as Baltimore, Minneapolis and Denver.

Long said he would like to see five or six of the city’s old parking meters installed in some of the most heavily panhandled areas of Manchester, including Elm Street. Money deposited in the meters would go directly to organizations that help the homeless. The goal, Long said, is to reduce panhandling and educate business owners and residents about the problem of giving money directly to people on the streets.

The Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic has unanimously recommended that the proposal be approved, with the following stipulations:

• The locations for the meters be determined by the Parking Division and Highway Department

• The first $260 in donations be used to reimburse the city for installation of the meters.

• All donations received after the $260 threshold is achieved would benefit the organization New Horizons.

“We would paint (the meters ) a new color, maybe red or blue, so they stand out from the ‘Pay and Display’ parking meters,” said Long. “They would be clearly labeled to say what group would benefit from any donations made.”

“I think this is a wonderful idea that is working successfully in a number of communities across the country,” said New Horizons Executive Director Charlie Sherman. “In Denver, their meter program was launched in 2007 and raises over $100,000 for homeless programs in that city. With cuts in federal, state and municipal funding, every year it becomes more and more challenging to raise the necessary funds to continue operating both our main shelter and Angie’s Shelter for women. We do a lot of fund raising throughout the year, but as the need continues to grow and government funding is cut, there is a need to fill that gap.”

The plan is part of the city’s approach to deterring aggressive panhandlers.

“We’re already hearing from some business owners, especially in the downtown area, about aggressive behavior shown by panhandlers,” said Manchester Police Chief David Mara. “A lot of the people we recognize as people who are not homeless. People give them cash, and they are feeding their addictions to alcohol or drugs.”

Long feels these meters would give people the opportunity to still donate to help the homeless, in a way that ensures programs that help them will get the funds.

The Manchester Police Department Community Policing Unit will soon begin increased visibility patrols downtown during the work week lunch time frame. Community police will also meet one-on-one with downtown business and property owners to discuss panhandling and other downtown quality-of-life issues. Mara said during these visits his department will conduct a survey to determine the effect of panhandling on Manchester businesses.

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