MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The city of Morgantown is showing its belief in the power of change by installing four gold parking-style meters that will take donations for the homeless one coin at a time.
The city's police and public work departments teamed up with the parking authority to put the freestanding machines on the sidewalks - away from parking spaces to avoid confusion. Though the officer behind the idea says it's not an anti-homeless concept, the meters are designed to discourage people from giving money to panhandlers.
"A hand-to-hand contribution actually oftentimes goes to feeding a lifestyle of chemical dependence," Sgt. Bryon Hennessey said Thursday.
"A person who's truly addicted may be legitimately asking for a couple of bucks to eat, and they may have every intention in the world of doing that," he said. "And then they see, 'Hey, I have enough for a bottle of this,' and then the addiction takes over. And a person who's addicted is truly powerless."
Money put into the meters will go to the United Way, which will then distribute it to the Bartlett House homeless shelter and other social service agencies.
City Manager Terrence Moore says the meters have been placed in areas known for panhandling and loitering. Each is painted gold and bears the words "Power of Change" and "Donation Station." The meters, he said, should give citizens confidence that any donation they make will be used well.
Hennessey said there's no way to estimate how much revenue they'll produce, but he's drafted a letter to ask local businesses to sponsor them for $1,000 apiece.
From citizens walking by, he said, "really, all we're asking for is pocket change."
Hennessey, who sits on the board of directors for the Bartlett House, said he got the idea while vacationing in Virginia Beach, Va. It was in a passageway to the boardwalk, far from any parking spaces, so he investigated.
The city, he learned, was making about $200 or $300 a month for homeless programs. It had gotten the idea from a community in California.
"So it's not a unique idea, and I can't take any credit for it at all," Hennessey said, "other than recognizing a good idea when I see it."