The idea of trying to persuade downtown pedestrians to feed special “donation meters” instead of giving spare change to panhandlers is now up and running in downtown Lawrence.
Thus far, early results suggest the city and downtown leaders still have some work to do in spreading the word.
In mid-June, city crews installed six donation meters at the mid-block crossings along Massachusetts Street between Seventh and 10th streets. During the most recent 30-day collection period, the city collected $51.59 from the meters, which was donated to the Lawrence Community Shelter.
Whatever the financial totals are, leaders at the Lawrence Community Shelter are pleased with the effort.
“The idea is to give people an alternative,” said Loring Henderson, director of the shelter. “It is a positive way to try to help out with the issue of homelessness.”
It also sends a message, Henderson said, that many leaders believe supporting panhandling is an unwise use of people’s funds. The donation meters — which are just used parking meters that have a special paint scheme — ensure that when people give their spare change, the money is going to programs to fight homelessness.
“We don’t support the idea of panhandling,” Henderson said. “It is part of all the forms that people fill out to stay here. We make it clear to people who stay with us that we don’t want them panhandling.”
Now, several leaders said, more effort needs to be made to alert downtown visitors to the donation meter program.
“I think conceptually it is a great idea,” said Cathy Hamilton, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. “I think we just need to do a better job of getting the word out about it.”
But Hamilton said the idea has promise because it makes for an easy way to donate to the shelter.
“It is just a matter of educating people that these meters are at a spot where they can deposit a couple of dollars or a couple of quarters and it will do more good in the effort to fight homelessness,” Hamilton said.
Jonathan Douglass, city clerk, said it cost about $300 per meter for the city to install the meters, which are on both the east and west sides of Massachusetts Street. He said the bulk of those costs were labor costs incurred by city employees. The cost for actual materials was significantly less, Douglass said.