Homeless donation meters coming to Daytona

Daytona Beach is soon going to have five devices scattered around the city; one is already up on the beachside. They are equipped to collect donations for the homeless.

DAYTONA BEACH — For those who want to help the homeless, just look for the bright orange device that looks like a parking meter.

The city is in the process of placing donation devices that look and operate like parking meters in various parts of Daytona Beach. The meters, distinguished by their bright orange color and signs identifying them as donation stations for the homeless, will be placed in high-traffic spots.

A homeless meter is already operational in the parking lot of Breakers Oceanfront Park, and it’s already brought in $70. The next planned device will likely be installed on Beach Street downtown. The city will start with five of the meters, and decide eventually whether to expand to as many as 10 of them.

“Ten will be our total target number, and we’ll see after that how it looks and if we want to do more,” said L. Ronald Durham, the city’s community relations manager. “We are identifying locations now. We will probably have some on Beach Street and State Road A1A.”

Tanger Outlet Mall and other businesses with heavy foot traffic are being asked if they want a meter on their property, and the city is scoping out the best spots on its land, Durham said.

The devices will accept any U.S. coins including pennies as well as Mastercard and Visa credit cards. Other than a 2.5 percent credit card processing fee, all of the donated money will be used to help the homeless. San Diego-based IPS Group Inc. has donated the meters and has not asked for a cut of collections in return, said Mike Stallworth, the city of Daytona Beach’s Business Enterprise Department manager.

Orlando has had similar meters for about two years, and has raised roughly $10,000 a year, Stallworth said. So depending on how generous local residents and visitors are, there’s the potential for similar tallies in Daytona Beach. Because Orlando paid $20,000 for its meters, that city is just now getting ready to push past the break even point, Stallworth said.

Stallworth, who brought the idea of using IPS to Daytona Beach officials, said the California company will donate no more than 10 meters to Daytona Beach. An IPS spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment.

Daytona Beach will collect the money and has decided to split donations between the First Step Shelter for adults that’s currently under construction, the Hope Place family shelter, Halifax Urban Ministries and the city’s homeless travel assistance program overseen by HUM. Rather than evenly splitting collections four ways, city officials will continually assess the four programs’ financial demands and divvy the money according to need, Stallworth said.

Durham said it hasn’t been determined yet how frequently the city will distribute the contributions.

Buck James, executive director of Halifax Urban Ministries, said on Monday he hadn’t heard a word about the meters. But it was a pleasant surprise when the news was shared with him.

“It’s a really cool idea,” said James, whose nonprofit also owns and runs the Hope Place shelter that opened a year ago. “I imagine over time that could become pretty significant. They just need to get the word out. Hopefully people will use it.”

About two months ago, the city quietly put up the first meter on the eastern edge of the parking lot next to Breakers Oceanfront Park. The collection device has been functional for about four weeks, but the city wanted to get comfortable using it before spreading the word to the public.

Late last week, the city posted an 83-second video on its Facebook page introducing the meter that overlooks the ocean and Daytona Beach Pier. Durham stood beside the meter in the video and explained how it works.

“Let’s contribute to an effort that’s going to make a major difference in our city,” Durham said on the video. “Instead of giving to a panhandler on the corner, now you will be able to anonymously give and contribute to all the efforts we have in the city to alleviate homelessness.”

Durham said while he was recording the video, people walking by were giving him a thumbs up. He suspects it’s going to be a successful venture, especially once the city starts to market the new fundraising tool.

Apparently that marketing is needed. One afternoon this week, dozens of people walked within inches of the meter in the city-owned parking lot and no one seemed to notice it.

Even the white sign with red lettering explaining what it is didn’t grab anyone’s eye. Bob Bohannon and Stacy McGovern walked on the sidewalk that runs past the meter without seeing it. They said the device blends in with the parking pay stations in the lot.

But both Bohannon and McGovern think meters are a good idea.

“I was homeless once myself for a week or two,” Bohannon said.

The lone meter overlooking the Daytona Beach Pier has mostly received donations in the form of coins, Stallworth said. There haven’t been any problems with vandals, he noted.

The meter stands in the middle of what had been a hotbed for panhandlers and vagrants until several new city laws were adopted over the past year. The latest city measure banned panhandlers from most all of their lucrative spots, including the parking lot beside the new meter.

The panhandlers who had claimed parts of the oceanfront and downtown as their own have all but vanished now. And business owners who had to suffer through the solicitation that scared off customers are overjoyed to have the new city regulations and a secure way for people to donate.

“It is such an improvement,” said longtime Boardwalk arcade owner Dino Paspalakis.

Paspalakis said he thinks it’s “a great idea” to let people donate with the meters.

“You know the money is going to the right source,” Paspalakis said. “Definitely a positive. Bravo to the city.”

Beach Street coffee shop owner Tammy Kozinski said she first saw homeless donation meters in coastal South Carolina. About six years ago, when Kozinski sat on the Downtown Redevelopment Area Board, she suggested at a meeting that Daytona Beach give it a try.

The Sweet Marlays’ Coffee owner said the suggestion never went anywhere because there was a concern among some city leaders that aggressive panhandlers would plant themselves near the meters and pressure people to give them money, too.

“I’m glad they’re finally doing it,” Kozinski said.

She said many local residents learned the hard way that they had been swindled by criminals with homes and cars who posed as desperate homeless people. Since tourists can fall for the same hoax, Kozinski suggests putting the meters in areas frequented by out-of-town visitors.

“To me it’s a matter of educating people who want to help,” she said.

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