The Give Change to Make Change program has been battling homelessness in New Haven for the past year but is starting to face opposition from community members and panhandlers.
Give Change to Make Change is an educational campaign that aims to promote giving donations to established services rather than directly to panhandlers in order to tackle homelessness in New Haven. The program includes a collection of special parking meters around the city that allow people to donate directly to these services. The funds will go toward hiring outreach and engagement workers through the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation, according to Doug Hausladen ‘04, New Haven’s director of transportation, traffic and parking.
“One of the key ingredients to battling homelessness is really meeting [the homeless] where they are through outreach and engagement,” Hausladen said. “We’re hoping that folks who have that desire to help people by being approached on the street will see that there are other opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives.”
There are currently four parking meters around downtown New Haven that serve as funnels for donations. These meters have brought in just under $1000 in the past year, a figure in line with the department’s predictions. According to Hausladen, these funds will go towards “augmenting the outreach for homeless services” by hiring full-time workers at the NHFPL who are affiliated with homeless services, such as Liberty Community Services and Columbus House. The workers will promote a “No Wrong Door” policy to provide outreach and engagement services to anyone who needs them.
According to Win Davis, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, one of the primary goals of Give Change to Make Change is to dispel misconceptions about homelessness and panhandling. Many people think homelessness and panhandling are necessarily linked, Davis said, but that is not always the case.
“Not everyone who panhandles is homeless. In fact, many people who panhandle are not homeless and are doing this for personal gain,” he said. “This program is an opportunity for us to say to the community that it’s okay to say no to panhandling and yes to giving.”
Davis added that the public library is an ideal location for the outreach and engagement initiative since it is accessible to all members of the New Haven community. According to Davis, libraries have become “de facto social service centers” because they are safe spaces and provide services like free internet access.
Although Give Change to Make Change has been pushing to combat homelessness by expanding established services, some students and community members have expressed concerns about the program’s message.
Jackson Willis ’19, the president of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, said the program provides necessary resources to help the homeless in New Haven but also promotes a negative, stigmatizing attitude towards panhandlers.
“The need is absolutely there for more resources for people who are suffering from homelessness, and we’re excited for any policy that’s trying to provide that,” said Willis. “The part we’re worried about is there’s dangerous tendencies to criminalize homelessness, dangerous tendencies to have disrespectful attitudes to people who are suffering from these really serious issues.”
Willis added that although it is important to maximize the impact of resources, it is also crucial to acknowledge the needs of “the person on the corner just asking for money.”
One panhandler on Broadway, who wished to remain unidentified, said the Give Change to Make Change program unrightfully perpetuates stereotypes about who panhandlers are. She added that established homeless services, such as the ones Give Change to Make Change partners with, limit how panhandlers can use the resources provided to them.
“I’ve been kicked out of every program, denied of everything in the world and still I don’t want to take. I’d rather bend my head down,” she said. “To ignore the panhandler is to smother them, who they are and what they think.”
The Give Change to Make Change program is in the process of adding six more parking meters around downtown New Haven.
Amber Hu | firstname.lastname@example.org