Donna Moss said she would be happy to put coins in the meter not just to park, but to help the homeless as well. New Haven might give her that chance, as part of a strategy to curb aggressive panhandling.
City and Town Green Special Services District officials presented a plan along those lines, called “Give Change To Make Change,” to an aldermanic committee Tuesday night, where it met with a positive reaction.
Moss (pictured above), who was parking her car downtown a few hours before the meeting, also endorsed the idea when informed about it.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I would be most happy to be more generous if I wasn’t confronted by some of the less-than-honorable ‘homeless.’ It’s hard to be generous in that kind of interaction.” She said she has given money to panhandlers before and had negative experiences. One person told her she wasn’t giving enough money. Another threatened to return home, retrieve his Uzi, and shoot her if she didn’t give more, she said.
Doug Hausladen, the city’s director of transportation, traffic, and parking, unveiled more details of the plan at Tuesday night’s City Hall hearing held by the Board of Alders City Services and Environmental Policy committee. His proposed program, which he first mentioned publicly in May and modeled on initiatives in other cities, aims to cut back on aggressive panhandling while still giving city-goers the opportunity to help those in need. New Haven would place 10 parking meters (donated by the city’s parking-meter company) downtown to accept money—by change or credit card—to distribute to New Haven community services like food for the hungry and shelter or getting-back-on-their-feet help for the homeless.
The committee gave Hausladen a green light to go ahead and further develop the plan, which he plans to bring back for formal approval as part of a broader effort to curb aggressive panhandling downtown. He said he hopes to have the meters up by Christmastime.
“Give Change to Make Change” is an educational program as well as a collection of look-alike parking meters, said Win Davis, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District. “‘Give Change to Make Change’ allows us to say: ‘Don’t give on the street. Give here.’ Without the meters, we don’t have that other place to say, ‘give here.’”
Hausladen said the meters would be placed at locations that get a lot of foot traffic, like near City Hall, the downtown library, the intersection of Chapel and College, parking garages, and the two train stations.
Davis compared the program to the Street Sheet, a brochure produced by Town Green that has information about emergency services and recommendations about where people can donate to help those in need.
Aggressive panhandling was one of the top three concerns identified in a recent study about the perception of New Haven, Hausladen said. The other two concerns were parking and traffic, and safety.
Mayor Toni Harp assembled a task force to respond to the study, said Joseph Rodriguez, her aldermanic liaison. Hausladen said the other components of the emerging initiative include putting an ordinance on the books defining “aggressive panhandling,” establishing community courts to hear cases about violations of such ordinance, and setting up a drop-in center for adults asked to leave shelters who otherwise would end up on the street.
Hausladen said that, in the current version of the plan, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce (GNHCC) would manage the money from the meters and distribute it either to Town Green or to a homeless drop-in center he hopes will soon be established. Routing the money through the GNHCC not only helps out a local non-profit, but it also keeps the money separate from city funds, he argued. (New Haven used to have a homeless drop-in center on Howe Street in the 1990s; it also had a voucher program called New Haven Cares that enabled people to give panhandlers coupons for food.)
Alders at Tuesday night’s hearing raised questions about the effectiveness of this program. Such as: Will it really address the needs of the panhandlers?
“A guy waiting for bus money is not going to wait for social services to hand them a bus voucher,” said Fair Haven Heights Alder Rose Ferraro Santana. She works downtown at 195 Church St. and sees multiple panhandlers every day, she said. She said she does not think this program will decrease panhandling.
Davis responded that this won’t be a cure-all, but rather the “corner piece” of a puzzle to combat panhandling. He said that “Give Change to Make Change” should make panhandling less profitable by encouraging city-goers to put their money elsewhere.
Downtown Alder Abigail Roth asked if Hausladen considered the possibility that if panhandling is discouraged, its former practitioners might turn to more violent crimes. Hausladen responded that while it was an interesting question, the trend didn’t appear in other states where such a program has been implemented. (Hausladen originally got the idea from a parking-themed calendar featuring a similar program in Denver.)
Westville Alder Adam Marchand asked how we know this is a big enough problem to merit city time and energy. He said that it would help to have a better understanding of the current population of panhandlers. He suggested collaboration with the Institute for Social and Policy Studies at Yale to do “undercover research or immersive anthropological research.”
People parking in New Haven Tuesday also had suggestions. Rosanna Trestman (pictured), a journalist from Norfolk, Connecticut, was visiting her husband who teaches at Yale. She suggested including the donation option on regular parking meters rather than installing dedicated new donation-meters.
“I wouldn’t want to let go of my precious change,” she said. But she would be happy to round up her transaction on the normal meters and donate the difference.
Hausladen said that, while he appreciates this idea, it would be technologically challenging, perhaps impossible.
One man sitting outside on Chapel Street, who asked for food but not money, pointed out that so many people already get parking tickets for not paying the meter. Would they really pay an extra meter? he asked.