On Tuesday evening, Doug Hausladen ’04, the New Haven Transit Chief, Joseph Rodriguez, the mayor’s aldermanic liaison and Win Davis, the executive director of the town green, unveiled a new plan to address panhandling in New Haven.
The proposal, which was presented to the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, focuses on directing money away from panhandlers and towards social services. The money would be collected through 10 “parking meters” that collect money for the homeless instead of providing a parking place. The fake meters were donated by the company that currently supplies New Haven’s parking meters. The plan is to place the “parking meters” in high-visibility places in the city, such as City Hall, train stations or even the corner of College and York streets. Money would also be collected in small cardboard “parking meters,” placed next to the cash registers at local businesses and restaurants.
“We’re really trying to take a holistic approach to panhandling,” Rodriguez said, which he was careful to distinguish from homelessness. Panhandling is the act of asking passers-by for money, though not all panhandlers are homeless.
According to Davis, this strategy would not only allow the city to direct more money towards social services for those who need them, but also lessen the economic incentive for people to ask for money on the streets.
The plan is coming out of a task force that Mayor Toni Harp assembled in response to a 2014 study about perceptions of residents in New Haven. The study found that New Haven residents perceived parking and traffic, safety and panhandling as the three biggest issues affecting the city.
The fake parking meter plan called, “Give Change to Make Change” is only one aspect of the city’s plans to combat panhandling. The task force has devised a four-pronged approach to tackle the issue, which includes the creation of community courts, development of drop-in social service centers and a city-wide ordinance to prohibit aggressive panhandling, Hausladen said. Another strong component of the plan is education — both for regular panhandlers about the social services that are available to them, as well as for those people who give spare change.
“We do not want to stop anyone from asking for help,” Davis told the committee. “I want to be able to help that person, but when they turn and walk away and continue to harass people, that’s an issue for the community.”
Many of the alders had questions about the new initiative.
Rosa Santana, the Ward 13 Alder who works in downtown New Haven, expressed her skepticism that the problem could be taken care of so easily.
“I get panhandled every day, it doesn’t stop,” Santana said. “The guy who needs bus money isn’t going to wait around for a social service worker with a bus voucher.”
Adam Marchand, the Ward 25 Alder, said he would like to see more refinement of the plan before it goes forward. Marchand suggested researching possible unintended consequences of a crackdown on panhandling, such as an increase in crime. He also said the city would benefit from a tangible way to measure the program’s success, and from careful examinations of studies on other cities that implemented a “Give Change to Make Change” program, such as Denver and San Diego.
In response to these worries, Davis stressed that “Give Change to Make Change” is just a piece in the puzzle of community development, and by no means a solution.
The city of Denver implemented a program using parking meters to direct change to the homeless in 2007.