SALT LAKE CITY – The Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office and Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance have partnered with several homeless outreach organizations to come up with a solution for the city’s growing panhandler population. They say the number of panhandlers is increasing daily and they want to offer ways people can help rather than handing out spare change.
They’re called host meters. People can feed change into the meters instead of handing money out to panhandlers. City officials say the initiative ensures people's money goes directly to organizations that help people in need.
They can be found in front of the Energy Solutions Arena and the Salt Palace Convention Center. Salt Lake City’s Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST) has taken 12 old parking meters and transformed them into mechanisms to collect change for the homeless.
“The host meters are just an educational tool that we’re using to teach people,” said Nick Como with the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance. “If you want to help the homeless people, this is the best way to help them is giving money into these meters where you know for sure your money is going to a service provider that`s going to get them the help that they need.'
City officials say it`s an answer to hundreds of panhandlers and homeless people coming to Utah.
“We have a very generous community, and more and more panhandlers wind up coming to our city streets and it`s a safety issue for cars in the road, it can be really dangerous on on-and-off ramps,” Como said.
The meters were put in four years ago, and city officials said they collect thousands of dollars each year. The funds are distributed to various homeless shelters throughout the city.
“The money goes to Volunteers of America, Utah, The Road Home, Catholic Community Services and other groups that provide outreach services to homeless individuals,” said Elizabeth Buehler, homeless services coordinator for Salt Lake City.
Kathy Bray from Volunteers of America says her organization reaches out to homeless individuals and provides them with resources they need.
“Our job in the HOST project is to go and talk with the panhandlers, along with the police department, to see what services they might need, so that they no longer need to panhandle,” she said. “We link them with those services and, hopefully, they`ll find a way to get resources other than panhandling.'
Businesses interested in hosting a meter can get more information at www.slchost.org. Residents can also donate money on the website and get locations of meters around town.