by Neil Donovan, NCH Executive Director
The people of Memphis want to know if they should put up “parking meter – contribution stations” to replace the method of directly donating to a person in need, often referred to as panhandling. If they asked me, I’d confidently say “No” to the parking meter plan, and “Yes” to promoting compassion through the personal act giving to those in need.” I’d also recommend not asking me, or any national advocate or your local city planners. Instead, ask those in need and those that serve them best. The answer you’re looking for resides within them.
The practice of installing meters has been done unsuccessfully in dozens of communities across the country and most recently in Nashville and Orlando. What these new cities will learn too late and Memphis may learn just in time, is that parking meter plans are often an act of frustration in disguise.
Homelessness has been with us for far too long. No one will agree with you more than a homeless person. But, the responsibility belongs to all of us: national advocates, federal, state and local governments, homeless service providers, the intolerant and dispassionate… and the homeless.
But, let’s not punish one group and call it innovative giving. “Parking meter – contribution stations” are small memorials to a community that’s stopped trying to end homelessness and started to circle the wagons. Most mainstream religions and community organizations can look to their teachings and missions for advice on interacting with those less fortunate: We all become richer in body, mind and spirit through the personal act of giving to another.