Next time you walk down Clematis Street, several new parking meters will most likely catch your eye. They’re painted bright orange with a big yellow smiley face on the front. And they’re set up in places where you wouldn’t normally expect to find a parking meter.
I discovered that the meters are part of the Real Change Movement. It’s a nationwide initiative focused on helping raise awareness of homelessness and make it very easy for locals to donate – either with a credit card or small change – to help the homeless in their cities.
I took time to talk to Michelle Phillips, outreach coordinator at the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, to get the story behind these unique meters.
The Real Change Movement started in Pasadena, Calif., and focuses on getting the word out about the plight of homelessness and how citizens can help effect real change, as opposed to giving that change to panhandlers.
The idea to bring it here was hatched during a meeting between the Homeless Coalition and the Downtown Development Authority. In collaboration with the City of West Palm Beach and the DDA, the program is funded and set to launch with 10 meters on Clematis Street and the waterfront.
Since Pasadena already had a blueprint and branding created for the program, West Palm Beach chose to use the blueprint but run the program independently. The city owns the meters. One hundred percent of the money collected goes directly to the Homeless Coalition right here in West Palm Beach.
The Homeless Coalition hopes that other cities in the area will get on board and help grow the program within Palm Beach County.
So how much money does it take to get someone off the streets?
According to the Homeless Coalition, it’s $2,800 to help a homeless individual get back into a home. For a family, the cost is $5,000.
Even though Palm Beach County has seen marked reduction in the homeless population over the last few years, an average of 1,421 individuals are homeless in Palm Beach County every day. In May of 2016, the Palm Beach County School District identified 3,702 students as homeless.
“We’re good at seeing the problem, and we’re all coming together to see about how we can find solutions to the housing problem,” said Michelle.
I asked Michelle about panhandlers, who are often seen around downtown. She explained that when you give to panhandlers it may help temporarily, but “if we want to end homelessness, we need to provided housing.”
In addition, it’s said that 40 percent of our local panhandlers are not homeless. Instead of getting bitter when the person in need purchases items that are not going to help them out of their long-term situation, we should do the research and donate to programs that we know are aligned with our passion to help.
The Homeless Coalition is looking for meter sponsors, which will pay for their installation and maintenance. The cost is $2,400 and the business sponsoring the meter will get a plaque to recognize the sponsorship on the meter.
The next phase of the Real Change Movement will consist of distributing “Collection Houses.” The hope is that area businesses will adopt and make available these little lucite banks for their customers to donate loose change.
“Handing out money on the on-ramp of a freeway might make you feel good, but isn’t always a real solution. However, participating in a program like the Real Change Movement helps us mitigate the issues,” said Pasadena Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez in a video prepared for the Real Change Movement.
“We’re not going to enforce our way out of the issues that are presented by the homeless,” Sanchez continued. “It’s going to take a collaborative effort between well-trained police officers, mental health professionals and affordable housing where we can place our homeless so that we can live a higher quality of life. All of this comes at a cost. And that’s where the Real Change Movement really takes effect. Your spare change, your credit card donations go a long way to stopping homelessness.”
Pictured above: A Real Change Movement meter in Pasadena, Calif.