Fort Street businesses hope to re-introduce two old-school parking meters as an act of kindness designed to help the homeless.
The brightly coloured “kindness meters” won’t buy motorists parking time. Instead, the hope is to see them installed on the sidewalk mid-block on Fort Street, between Blanshard and Douglas streets, as a means of collecting money for the homeless.
The meters would be distinctly painted and labeled along the lines of: “The money collected in this meter will be given to community groups dedicated to providing services and resources to the homeless.” The hope is to have them installed by summer.
“It’s just a different way for people to give when they’re cruising through downtown,” said Teri Hustins, an owner of Oscar & Libby’s Gift Store and co-chairwoman of the Fort Street Business Association, which came up with the idea.
“We’re hoping to have them painted in colours to match our block’s banners [bright pink, lime green and white]. And, hopefully, there will be some kind of signage that won’t get destroyed, explaining a little bit about the initiative.”
It is yet to be determined which organizations will receive collected coins.
The 700 block of Fort Street that’s being targeted has a large number of panhandlers, but Hustins said the kindness meters are not directed at that. Most of the panhandlers are not a problem and many simply stand, cap in hand, she said.
“Yes, we do have a lot of panhandlers in the 700 block. That is for sure an issue for us. The business association has a lot of interaction with VicPD in terms of helping us deal with the very few aggressive panhandlers that we have.”
The objective is not to deter people from giving to panhandlers, she said. “It’s just another way for people to give money, and the 700 block is a very busy block, especially during the work week.”
Victoria council has given its blessing to the idea, which Coun. Charlayne Thornton Joe said has been tried in other cities and may have been tried at one point in Victoria.
“There has been discussions about it through the years, but I think the question about it at the time was we had so many meters, we didn’t want to confuse people and there was concern about how do you choose locations,” she said.
“This was great because the Fort Street merchants approached me,” said Thornton-Joe, who shares downtown liaison duties with Coun. Margaret Lucas.
Thornton-Joe doesn’t see the initiative as aimed at reducing panhandling.
“There will be some people who choose to give to panhandlers. There will be some who choose to try the meters. Some will do both or neither. So I think it’s giving people options,” she said.
The city replaced the bulk of its 1,900 parking meters in 2009 with 270 solar-powered payment stations that accept coins, credit cards and city-issued smart cards.
Lucas said the meters will help to raise awareness about homelessness. “That’s a good way to get that in front of people and get them thinking about it and what are the innovative ways to solve this problem.”