Loose change to benefit Silver Spring nonprofit homeless center
Donation stations coming to downtown will support Shepherd's Table's mission
Those feeding parking meters in downtown Silver Spring now could also be feeding the homeless.
Montgomery County recently gave five old parking meters to Shepherd's Table, a nonprofit homeless center, to turn into donation meters in which passersby can give coins to benefit the center's programs.
The meters will be ready for use within a couple of weeks. They will be installed at the following sites in Silver Spring: two on Ellsworth Drive, one at the new Civic Building, one at the parking garage on Ellsworth Drive, and one in the garage across from the Civic Building, said Jackie Coyle, executive director of Shepherd's Table.
"We think it's a wonderful opportunity for the community members who are walking by those meters and say, Oh, sure, I can give 50 cents or a dollar to help make a difference,'" Coyle said. "They're there to provide an opportunity for people to give and also an opportunity for education."
However, Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy organization working to end homelessness, and a Silver Spring resident, said he believes the meters abolish the invaluable personal interaction between an individual asking for money and another person responding.
"I do think that at the very core of [the donation meter program's] creation is the assumption that it will replace the act of panhandling," he said. "I think it's healthy to have the presence of individuals who are in need around us. It's a really good reminder that we don't live in a perfect world and persistent poverty is and has been with us for all our lives. So it's important that we don't simply create opportunities and mechanisms to drive these people further underground."
At least 17 other cities nationwide have a donation meter program in place, Donovan said, including downtown Bethesda.
Shepherd's Table painted the meters blue and will attach signs and boxes to them that contain fliers informing people about the center and homelessness in the community, Coyle said.
"This is a very challenging year for us financially, and to have this added source of income in a way that absolutely engages the community and visitors to the community is just really wonderful," Coyle said.
The center serves about a 2,000 people per year, Coyle said. The nonprofit offers a daily dinner service, an eye clinic, gently-used clothing and a resource center with access to personal mail and telephone, toiletries, blankets, over the counter medications and referral to shelter services.
About 1,100 homeless people live in Montgomery County, according to Shepherd's Table.
Bud Miller Associates Inc., a company that makes awards and plaques, will provide the signs for the boxes, and Southern Management Corp., a residential property management company, will pay for the fliers, Coyle said. The county will provide and install the meters' poles with support from the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, the meters will hopefully curb the tendency for people to give pocket change to panhandlers, which could be used for drugs and alcohol instead of food or other resources, Coyle said. Panhandling is legal in Montgomery County unless the panhandlers act aggressively.
The Bethesda donation meters, which benefit Bethesda Cares, a nonprofit that addresses the problems of the homeless, sparked the idea for the program in Silver Spring, said Judie Tucker, a member of the Shepherd's Table Board of Directors, who pitched the idea to the nonprofit.
The donation meters in Bethesda, which have been in place since 2009, have been a great advertising tool for Bethesda Cares and take in between $50 and $100 during the course of a few months, said Susan Kirk, executive director of Bethesda Cares. But the program is not without flaws.
The three meters have, on occasion, been vandalized, Kirk said. One incident involved a panhandler peeling the information sticker off the meter because the device proved to be direct competition, she said.
Donovan said he prefers that donors interact with those in need.
"People often say, Well, what if the person uses it for drugs or alcohol?' " Donovan said. "Say to the person, I'm really conflicted about giving the money, because it's going to be used for drugs and alcohol. What do you think about my feelings?' Treat them like human beings. I think that's what really is missed when you have these parking meters."
Donovan, who supports Shepherd's Table, said the donation meter program cannot collect enough coins to solve the lack of affordable housing that all but guarantees homeless people will remain homeless.
Coyle said the meters merely provide another way for people to give to the homeless and will not eliminate the personal interaction with those who live on the streets.
"It's really good to say to folks, You know, I can't give money, but I can treat you as a human person,' and that's still going to happen," she said. "The meters don't in any way detract from humanity happening. I don't think it's a harmful thing to put the meters out there."