For many motorists and pedestrians, the sight of a supposedly homeless person asking for “help” is more than they can bear. Often overcome with emotion, concern, and pity, those with means, will give spare change, food, and water to those begging for help. While The Free Thought Project routinely brings its readers stories of innovative solutions and organizations helping to end hunger and homelessness, one of the latest municipal attempts at aiding the needy has left us scratching our heads in confusion, disbelief, and frustration.
Cities all across the country are now installing parking meter-style donation devices, supposedly in an attempt to cut down on panhandling.
According to CBS News, they’ve already been installed in Orlando, Denver, Pasadena, Indianapolis, Annapolis, Corpus Christi and New Haven, CT. The machines accept loose change and credit cards, and are meant to serve as an alternative for donors who, for many personal reasons, may not want to interact with panhandlers.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp described the reasons for their installation saying, “It’s meant to generate supplemental funds for homeless services and steer well-meaning, generously donated cash away from the business of panhandling.”
The monies are collected and distributed to local charities which serve the communities. Denver’s “Road Home” is one such charity. “We get at least one call a month from cities who are looking to replicate the program,” said Road Home spokesperson Julie Smith.
But the belief that those who are panhandling are homeless is an inaccurate one says one meter critic. Mark Horvath, founder of the advocacy group Invisible People (national homeless advocate), told CBS News, “It’s a false stereotype. A huge percentage of people who are panhandling are in housing, but they can’t afford to make ends meet…There are so many better solutions than putting up meters, like the permanent support of affordable housing and a living wage.”
Some cities seem to see the bigger picture, and have assessed levies on goods and services to help combat the issues of hunger, and homelessness. Miami is one such city. “In Dade County, Florida, a food and beverage tax provides about $24 million a year as part of a $61 million budget for programs to help the homeless. Meters, by comparison, bring in about $50,000 a year, said Ron Book, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust,” writes CBS News.
Other metropolitan areas appear to be turning a blind eye toward their problems with panhandlers. While CBS News contends homelessness is down across the country, it is skyrocketing in Los Angeles which estimates it has a total of 30,000 people without homes, living in mostly tent cities.
While heroin use in the tent cities is “as common as drinking coffee,” according to one resident, advocates contend the city’s attempt to curb drug use and hunger in the community ignores the larger issue of affordable housing. “Services without housing leaves people still on the street and in shelters,” says Phillip Mangano, a housing advocate.
Tenetia Trigeros, a tent city resident told reporters there exists a lot of talented people in LA’s tent cities but added, “No one wants to give them a chance because they’ve already hit rock bottom.”
From the CBS report, it appears the advocates all agree that donation meters do little to end panhandling, hunger, and homelessness, and that a three-pronged approach must be undertaken. Focusing on just one aspect, such as drug use, leaves the individual hungry and without shelter. And focusing solely on those basic needs does little to help combat the drug addiction which may have led many residents to the streets in the first place.
As The Free Thought Project has faithfully reported, many private grassroots movements to end homelessness have been squashed by city officials and code enforcement agents who see the presence of tiny homes as a threat to their idyllic neighborhoods. Other cities have prosecuted hunger advocates for reclaiming expired foods for use in soup kitchens.
One issue the advocates may be able to all agree on is the idea that government simply just needs to get out of the way and let charitable organizations do the work of good Samaritans. They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and rub shoulders with those who are down on their luck. Putting up more unsightly parking meter style donation devices is wrongheaded and ineffective.
Ending heroin use among the homeless may be as simple as providing alternative drug use therapies involving marijuana, kratom, and CBD oil, but the DEA continues to classify two of the three natural substances as Schedule I narcotics, creating felons out of doctors and natural practitioners who would attempt to do so with homeless drug addicts.
It seems unfathomable that such substances, which have been used to curb opiate cravings and aid in mental wellness are not being given to the nation’s homeless as a hand-up and a way to get heroin addicts some much needed help. Allowing charitable organizations to build tiny home villages in vacant industrial parks would do more to combat the tent city problem than anything. And then allowing food advocates to distribute healthy reclaimed food would end their immediate need for quality nutrition. Those efforts, in the opinion of this author, would do more to rid America of homelessness and drug addiction than any ‘meter’ would ever do.