Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kindness Meters

Interesting idea coming out of the mayor's office here in Ottawa and getting front page coverage in the Ottawa Sun newspaper.

Mayor Larry O'Brien wants you to make change for the homeless.

Beginning next week, visitors to the Byward Market will notice a few "kindness meters," formerly used as parking meters they are intended to collect loonies and toonies for the city's homeless.

It's part of the Give Smart program the city officially kicked off yesterday.

"Nobody in the City of Ottawa needs to be hungry and I want residents to park their cash in these meters," said O'Brien.

The mayor has asked that six parking meters that are no longer being used for their original purpose be refurbished and stationed at strategic locations -- high traffic pedestrian areas in the Market.

So as not to confuse motorists, the meters will be positioned away from the road and painted a different colour than the traditional metallic grey.

O'Brien said the kindness meters will be easily recognizable and will carry a Give Smart logo.

The money collected wouldn't be placed directly in the hands of the homeless, but will be distributed to the organizations that serve the homeless, including the Ottawa Mission and Operation Go Home.

"The money will go to the groups that actually provide the help," said O'Brien.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Georges Bedard, whose ward will be home to the meters, said they'll go a long way to providing the necessary help that homeless people need.

"I hope this will encourage people to give their money to various organizations," said Bedard.

The Give Smart drive is the second phase of a program that began last April emphasizing that putting money into the hands of the panhandlers doesn't help them.

"It mostly goes to feeding their addictions," said Bedard.

To help promote public philanthropy, Bedard said the Give Smart campaign will be advertised on OC Transpo buses and pamphlets have been printed to inform the public about the program's intention -- all paid for by the area business community.

And to ensure the operation and maintenance of the program doesn't become a financial burden, the city is looking for corporate sponsors.

Bedard said if the kindness meters prove to be a worthwhile means to collect money to help the homeless, he'd like to install more of them in the Byward Market.

Similar meters have already been installed in a few Canadian municipalities and across the United States.

Montreal installed 60 of them a few months ago and collects about $700 a week.

I'll be honest, at first read I thought this was a well-intended idea that I would have supported when the opportunity presented itself, but that would not amount to much. However, its success in Montreal (on a much larger scale mind you) is encouraging.

The article seems to cover all my concerns but one; why limit it to loonies and twonies (which I believe should be the proper spelling of that coin's name, in light of its value)? I'm constantly carrying too many coins. I'd unload all my nickles and dimes and not even feel it. No doubt the organizations in question would accept them.

I like the mention that giving homeless people the money directly does little to help. I believe that to be true. Reading this article, I was reminded of many anecdotes, personal or otherwise, of people trying to help and becoming frustrated. Christine once handed a guy some change only to be told "Well, that's not a hell of a lot!". I saw a panhandling kid once get pissed that someone included pennies in their handout to him, grab them from his cup and throw them in the street. A co-worker was asked for $75 to get a room for the night.

I once gave a lady a loonie, and she asked me for five bucks. Presumably, if I'd given her $5 she'd have asked for ten and proceeded with this escalation until I bought her a house by the river. She followed me for two blocks asking for more.

So this would appear to be a case where the indirect method is the better course of action.


Lynn Sinclair said...

I have found that most panhandlers in Toronto are both gracious and appreciative. Unfortunately, it will always be the negative experiences we remember best. Such is life.

I like the meter idea, and hope it's a success.

But now on to the most important issue you raised: how to spell twonies/toonies. I've always spelled it toonies. Just looks more...right, I suppose. Especially when it's written alongside "loonies". The rest of the world probably thinks we're a little strange just calling our coins by those names, so they wouldn't be surprised by how we spell them.

T.H.I.T. said...

I seem to be in minority about this whole "twonie" thing. :-(

I googled "twonies" and got the "did you mean toonies?" message. Therefore, I concede.

zoom said...

I've encountered very few rude panhandlers, regardless of whether I've given them money or not.

I'm opposed to the kindness meters. I think they're insulting to the poor (essentially saying that poor people can't be trusted to know what they need), and they introduce the additional costs of a middleman (the city). Further, they put social service agencies in direct competition with their clients for spare change.

T.H.I.T. said...

I disagree, though appreciate the opposing viewpoint.

The kindness meter doesn't prevent people who feel it's better to give directly from doing so. What it should do is draw funds from people had stopped giving because they were concerned about feeding addictions.

As an aside, I went to your own blog and saw that someone used the word "twoonies". Now I'm more confused than ever. :-)

Nikki said...

I know this post is pretty old, but I've been doing research on the Kindness Meters for work and came across this.

Just want to clarify - the Kindness Meters not only accept but welcome pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters as well. Just because regular parking meters don't accept them doesn't mean these ones don't; they've been adjusted to accept all types of authentic change (even American).