San Rafael city officials are encouraging people to skip handing out change to downtown panhandlers and put the money in a donation meter instead.
The “Put your Change to Work” program features 10 new purple donation meters that are being installed this week and next, mostly along Fourth Street. The money will help finance the city’s Downtown Streets Team, a program that gets people off the street and back to work.
The meters will become operative Sept. 29.
“We’re providing an alternative way for empathetic people to give, we’re providing a dignified alternative for people who panhandle and we’re aiming to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers,” said Logan McDonnell, a project manager with the Downtown Streets Team.
The meters are exactly like conventional parking meters, accepting coins and credit cards, except that they are purple and bear the “Put Your Change to Work” and Downtown Streets Team logos. The IPS Group is donating the parking meters.
Contributors can feed the meter or donate on the website to get a tax receipt. The streets team is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible.
“Each meter has a sponsorship level of $6,000. Businesses get their logo on the meter if they sponsor it,” McDonnell said.
The team expects to install 10 more meters eventually, he said.
“A lot of the money going to this is being raised by sponsorships from businesses and that relieves the city’s financial burden,” said Andrew Hening, San Rafael’s director of homeless outreach and policy. “The goal is that the team will become more self-supporting.”
The city contributed $172,000 to the streets team in 2015 and $100,000 in 2016, McDonnell said.
Community members and representatives of local businesses worked with McDonnell and Hening to put the donation meter program together.
“I’m incredibly proud of the final product,” Hening said. Residents Paula and Diane Doubleday helped with the marketing.
To publicize the effort, businesses will be given signs to post in windows directing people to the donation meters. City Manager Jim Schutz mentioned the program in his weekly “Snapshot” email that goes to 10,000 subscribers.
Carol Thompson, former executive director of the city’s Business Improvement District, and Kelly London of downtown business Apex Suites, were part of the working group as well, along with Richard Goldstein, owner of San Rafael’s Copy Shop & Printing Co.
“The people we most often see panhandling are housed, which most people wouldn’t expect,” Hening said. Also, “it’s a lot of people passing through town,” not the people who have been in San Rafael a long time and are utilizing the Ritter Center and other services, he said.
“It is a group of people who are not using the money for the best purposes,” Hening said of the panhandlers.
“The worst thing about homelessness from the community’s point of view is feeling helpless about what to do,” Hening said. People intuitively recognize that giving to panhandlers is not the best thing to do, he said.
“This is a way to create a program that’s visible. People can feel like they are contributing to something that’s making a difference,” Hening said.
Since its inception in 2013, the San Rafael Downtown Streets Team has helped 65 people into full-time employment and 32 team members into housing, McDonnell said.
Through the program, at least 15 homeless people work 20 hours a week at beautification efforts in exchange for food and housing vouchers. Another 20 hours each week involve job search activities, including a nine-week job search skills course. The program has maintained a consistent participation of 25 to 30 people each week, according to the city.
Participants have worked at a number of companies, including United Parcel Service, Good Earth Natural Foods, Chipotle, Whole Foods and Petaluma Upholstery.