homeless donation station parking meter


A couple developments of note about homelessness in Chicago:

* The mayor's getting increasing pushback—which is good, that's how the system is supposed to work—on what services the city can't cut. One of them, apparently: homeless outreach teams during the winter months. Perhaps it was the (overblown) stink over the DFS head saying that one alternative for the homeless to get to shelters was cabs; sometimes policy decisions require a good PR debacle to gain momentum.

* Megan Cottrell of the Chicago Reporter has a good update on the even-more-broke state's cutbacks to homelessness prevention services, which are dramatic, as are the raw numbers on homelessness:

Numbers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless indicate that more people were turned away from homeless services last year than were taken in. That's 45,673 turn-aways compared with 40,542 intakes. It's a phenomenon sweeping communities throughout the region.

This reminded me of an odd little 1914 Tribune story I came across while searching for something completely different, which caught my eye because of my interest in technocratic government and the eternal question of what to do when passing a panhandler.

"There is to be relief for the man who worries about the ultimate destination of the dimes out of which he is panhandled," the article begins. "Hereafter, if he desires, he may pay in a lump sum the amount of his season's contributions to the down-and-outs and be certain that the money is spent for bread and board.

"The Chicago Christian Industrial League, of which Arthur Meeker is president, will sell coupon books to persons on whom the panhandle appeal is effective. When a request is made for just enough for a bite to eat and a flop for the night, the holder of the book tears off a coupon and hands it over.

"There are two denominations of coupons. One entitles the holder to a bed and breakfast and the other to supper, a bed, and breakfast. One book sells for $1.50 for ten coupons and the other for $2 for the same number of coupons."

This in turn reminded me of a more recent method employed by the city of San Antonio to leverage street charity for homelessness prevention services. Having retired a bunch of old coin-fed parking meters—just like a certain Midwestern city—they converted 25 of them into "donation stations" that benefit (and are maintained by) a local charity; Orlando and Las Vegas have done the same thing.


Photograph: zappowbang (CC by 2.0)