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Colorado Springs parking meters will help homeless

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado ” Colorado Springs, Colorado wants charitable citizens to fill the meter instead of the hands of the city’s homeless.

Come April, the city will begin installing 130 old parking meters, decorated by local artists, inside businesses to serve as donation stations. Collections will go to Homeward Pikes Peak, a federally funded umbrella group that allocates money to shelters, soup kitchens, clinics and housing services.

Colorado Springs modeled its program after Denver, which set up red parking meters in 2007 for homeless donations. Denver’s 86 meters generate more than $100,000 a year through donations and businesses that sponsor meters.



Colorado Springs residents give about $1.5 million each year to panhandlers, but 95 percent of that “goes to drugs and alcohol,” argued city Councilman Jerry Heimlicher, who proposed the plan.

“If someone asks you for a sandwich, you put four quarters into the parking meter instead,” he said.



A 2005 Denver survey found panhandlers there received more than $4 million a year. Diverting just 10 percent of that money into parking meters can make a big difference for homeless organizations, Heimlicher said.

Evidence collected in January suggests Colorado Springs’ homeless population jumped 10 percent, to about 2,200, over the past year, said Homeward director Robert Holmes.

Colorado Springs is learning from Denver’s missteps as well.



In Denver, vandals often jam the coin slots to compel donors to give spare change directly to panhandlers, Heimlicher said. To avoid that, students at Colorado Springs’ Thomas B. Doherty High School helped arrange deals with local businesses to place meters inside their establishments. The school’s Distributive Education Club of America contacted city officials asking if students interested in marketing could get involved.

The city council also commissioned the Smokebrush Gallery and Foundation for the Arts in Colorado Springs to turn the meters into art work. Studies show that vandals are less likely to damage public art work than other structures, said Holly Parker, director of the Smokebrush Foundation, which promotes the arts in the Pikes Peak region.

“The impetus for having them decorated is to provide something that really stands out and encourages people to put their coin in the slot and turn that handle,” said Parker.

Businesses from The Downtown Dentist to MacKenzie’s Chop House to Starbucks agreed to host meters. Artists will design the Starbucks meter to look like a coffee bean; a meter modeled after a pork chop will go in the lobby of MacKenzie’s, Heimlicher said.

“I did one covered in black and white fur,” said Josh Kempf, a local artist. “I wanted to do something that was tactile as well as striking.” Kempf wants to design another meter for a night club using parts of old neon signs.

The meter program should funnel money to where it’s needed and boost Homeward Pikes Peak, which faces funding cuts. “We’re getting it both ways: More clients, fewer dollars,” Holmes said.

Funding from one of Homeward’s largest donors, the Denver-based Daniel’s Fund, has been cut by a third, Holmes said. “I was happy just to get that. … It’s a pretty good rule of thumb: Whatever you got last year, cut it by a third.”


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