Alders and community members met in City Hall last night to discuss two new policies that could change how New Haven approaches social issues in coming years.
Chief among the issues that the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee addressed last night were proposed organizational changes to the Environmental Advisory Council and the installation of “donation meters” in the city. The meters, shaped like regular parking meters, would allow residents to make donations to United Way to relieve homelessness in the city.
Doug Hausladen ’04, the city’s transportation and parking director, said the idea for donation meters in New Haven began about a year ago, when he held a workshop with the alders regarding the proposal. Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth said homelessness — especially on the New Haven Green — has been a worsening problem in the city; an article in the New Haven Independent over the summer detailed how panhandlers have become more aggressive in recent years.
According to Win Davis, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, who has worked with Hausladen on the donation meters, the project is intended to provide alternative outlets for people to donate to the homeless.
“This is not a condemnation of panhandling, because it’s legal,” Davis said. “We’re just trying to let people know of other ways to express their generosity.”
Hausladen said the city plans on placing the meters in high-traffic, high-visibility spots. He named the corner of College and Chapel Streets as one potential location and the interior of the New Haven Free Public Library as another. Davis also said the Town Green plans to produce informational brochures about the meters. He handed out sample brochures from Burlington, Vermont, which also has donation meters, to the alders.
The proposed agreement with IPS Group Inc. — the company that currently supplies the city’s parking meters — will cost the city nothing, Hausladen said. IPS will provide the 10 donation meters for no charge and will also cover all transaction costs involved the donation process. Money donated to the meters, he said, will be directly deposited in a United Way fund to combat homelessness.
Roth expressed hope that the meters will combat panhandling in the downtown area by reducing incentives for panhandlers.
In response to a question from Ward 13 Alder Rosa Santana at the meeting, Hausladen said the city will be legally responsible for the meters and will handle installation, but IPS will provide new meters to replace damaged ones.
Before discussing the donation meters, the committee considered the night’s first order of business: proposed changes to the structure of the city’s Environmental Advisory Board. City Engineer Giovanni Zinn ’05 told the News that the changes to the ordinance governing the Environmental Advisory Council will make the board more resident-based and less administrative.
“The major change has been a radical shift in the composition of the group,” Zinn said. “Previously, it was very department-heavy, without a whole lot of residents.”
The proposed changes would give six city residents positions on the board, with three administrators — including Zinn himself — holding non-voting positions. One or two alders will also sit on the council.
Zinn said the effort to reform the council began after a group of city residents approached Mayor Toni Harp asking for the city to make changes to the board’s composition. Harp then formed a task force to investigate how the council could be revitalized and made a vocal part of efforts to increase sustainability in the city.
Santana, who was filling in as chair of the committee for Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, said she used to sit on the council. At the time, it was composed primarily of city staff, and she said she “didn’t have any say” on the board.
“Hopefully, this time, city residents will be able to give their opinions, and in conjunction with the city work to develop environmental policy,” she said.
Roughly five members of the public spoke in favor of the proposed changes to the council. Laura Kahn, a co-chair of Harp’s task force on the council, said she hoped the Board of Alders would approve the changes so that the council can begin work as soon as possible.
Kevin McCarthy, a former staffer for the state’s energy and sustainability legislative committees, said his experience working in Hartford made him think that the language of the ordinance should be kept simple and flexible, so that the alders are not forced to revisit it every few years.
Zinn said he expects the council to work with area universities — including Yale and the University of New Haven — to develop environmental and sustainability policy.
With both pieces of legislation passed in committee, they will go to the full Board of Alders, which will vote on the motions in the coming weeks.