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Fredericton uses old parking meters to collect for homeless and cut panhandling

Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc., stands next to a "kindness meter", in Fredericton, on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. The meters are being used in an effort to ease panhandling in the downtown business area.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Bissett
December 13, 2015 - 8:30 AM

FREDERICTON - Chris Moore sits cross-legged on a piece of cardboard on a cold and wet sidewalk in downtown Fredericton, hoping passersby will drop some spare cash into an empty coffee cup.

For the past year, this is how the 28-year-old homeless man has collected the cash he needs for snacks and other things he can't get at the local soup kitchen or men's shelter.

"It's embarrassing. I don't want to be doing it. I definitely don't like doing it, but I'm not going to go stealing stuff," he said.

But the image of panhandlers is not one the downtown business community wants. So Bruce McCormack, general manager of Downtown Fredericton Inc., made the pitch to city council to try using 'kindness meters.'

The six used parking meters have been painted green and mounted on sidewalks on a few downtown streets, with the proceeds being shared equally between Fredericton Homeless Shelters and the Fredericton Community Kitchen.

"We felt there was a need for us to bring to light the story about panhandling, how it affects our downtown businesses and our customers to those businesses," McCormack said.

The downtown business community was particularly concerned about aggressive panhandlers.

Moore doesn't ask anyone for money. He looks up, smiles and says "thank you" to people who drop their change or bills in his cup.

He said he wants to work, but he doesn't have the training or experience needed to get a job.

"That's my problem. I never really done anything except fast-food work before I got into drugs. I did 10 years of that, and that ruined my whole life pretty much," said Moore, adding that he's on a methadone program and doing well.

McCormack said people are generous and want to give to panhandlers, but many were concerned the money wouldn't be used for food and shelter.

"This, we felt, was a response to that, so people could actually put money in the meter and then they know exactly where that money is going," he said.

Since the meters were installed in August, more than $2,200 has gone to each organization and McCormack said there are now fewer aggressive panhandlers downtown.

Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc., said there's an incorrect perception that most panhandlers use the money they get on the street to feed addictions.

"By and large, it is going to support keeping a roof over their heads and providing food for them, and being able to provide the necessities of life," he said. "If you think about it, your average social assistance cheque is about $550 a month. Can you live on $550 a month?"

Maddox said he sees a need for people to use the so-called kindness meters and also give to the panhandlers.

The money from the meters isn't "chump change," he said. "It's good money that helps us keep our doors open and helps the kitchen provide three meals a day. It helps. Every bit helps."

However, he said only a fraction of the homeless people in the city actually use the homeless shelter so they need help from other sources.

Maddox said the meters provide funding from people who might not otherwise donate to the shelters or soup kitchen. He said every bit of money helps, but at this time of year his organization could use 20 dollar bills rather than just toonies.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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