Tasnim Elboute

Feeding the new donation meters at City Hall will not stave off parking tickets, but it will help fight homelessness.

The initiative, “Give Change to Make Change,” is part of an effort to address the problem of panhandling in New Haven. City and Town Green Special Services District officials said they planned to install donation meters — devices resembling parking meters that accept cash donations, but do not serve as parking meters — to collect money at City Hall and the New Haven Free Public Library in January. But due to potential inclement weather, the expected installation date of the donation meters has been pushed to spring 2016. Still, the initiative will begin to accept electronic donations through Parkmobile — an application that typically allows mobile payment for parking meters — by Dec. 1. Officials say that the donation meters will discourage panhandling by providing residents with more opportunities to give money directly to organizations that fight homelessness.

The Board of Alders unanimously approved the initiative in September of this year, but the city is still finalizing its contracts with Parkmobile, IPS Group Inc. — the city’s parking meter provider — and United Way of Greater New Haven, a service organization that will channel the funds toward groups that address chronic homelessness, according to Doug Hausladen ’04, director of New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.

One of the initiative’s goals is to shift donations away from panhandlers and toward social services endorsed by the city. Winfield Davis, Town Green Special Services District executive director, said making the shift requires the city to “start a conversation” and educate the public about the services available to New Haven’s homeless population.

“One thing that I’ve learned from practitioners in social services agencies is [that], not all the time, but often, people panhandling are panhandling to support a certain habit,” Davis said. “Are we really doing them a favor by allowing them to stay in that position, or should we help them get to a better place? This is really about a way to change people’s mind about the best way to give.”

Hausladen said inspiration for the initiative came from IPS Group Inc., a San Diego-based company that provides donation meters to cities across the country. The donation meters the company installed in San Diego raised approximately $10,000 in four years for Make Change Count, a program that fights homelessness. In Denver, the meters have raised more than $200,000 since 2007 and have contributed to the success of the city’s Road Home program, which also fights homelessness.

IPS Group Inc. will provide the Elm City with 10 free donation meters and will permit credit card donations with minimal transaction costs, Hausladen said. He added that financial goals for New Haven’s initiative will be set after the program’s first full quarter.

Hausladen said the city is also working with the Town Green Special Services District on an education campaign to be launched this winter. The education campaign is designed to teach residents about homelessness and panhandling.

“We are creating handbills that are education-based and highlight the need for people to put their donation dollars into the current services that are already being provided rather than seeing a good intention go toward a not healthy long-term decision,” he said.

Peter Schaller, United Way of Greater New Haven communications director, said installing the meters means that United Way can ensure that donations go to the places in the city where they are needed most, such as homeless shelters. He added that money from the meters will be directed to United Way of Greater New Haven’s 100-Day Challenge to End Chronic Homelessness, an initiative created to provide housing for most of Greater New Haven’s chronically homeless population.

Downtown Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ‘94 said she thought the initiative would create incentive for people to give to the community.

“I think there’s a lot of very generous people who care about the city of New Haven and who want to help people in need,” Roth said. “I think they’ll be excited to have a vehicle to do it where they know the money will be used for legitimate purposes.”

The United Way was founded in 1887 in Denver.