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Donation meters have raised $1,000 for homeless, program looks to expand

Published: Thursday, July 21 2011 4:31 p.m. MDT

Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST) donation meter in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 21, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In April, red parking meters began sprouting up downtown when local businesses, city leaders, law enforcement and social service providers partnered to launch the Homeless Outreach Service Team program.

The donation meters were intended to curb panhandling by encouraging people to donate their spare change directly to homeless service providers, rather than giving to beggars on the street.

"We encourage the public to support the HOST program by turning spare change into real change and contributing to meters rather than individuals," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said at HOST's launch.

Three months into the program, Pamela Atkinson said HOST is picking up speed after a slow start.

"We need to get the word out," said Atkinson, whose Pamela J. Atkinson Foundation distributes HOST money to various providers in the city.

Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Michelle Ross said HOST so far has raised around $1,000. While the bright red meters help educate the public, Ross said HOST extends much further than mere pocket change.

Businesses sponsor the meters for one year by donating $1,500 to the program. Individuals also are able to donate online through the police department's website or at any Zions Bank branch in the state.

"The meters are not the draw to get the money," Ross said. "The real moneymaker is sponsorship and online donations."

So far, seven meters have been placed, with two more scheduled to appear next week. Each one is an out-of-use city parking meter, converted for donations and painted red. Ross said there are 13 in all, but with the success of the program, organizers are looking to expand.

"In December, there's definitely going to be more," Ross said. "I think we're doing great."

With Salt Lake City replacing many parking meters with a new electronic system, Ross said there's ample supply for donation meters.

Atkinson said a number of businesses around the city have expressed interest in sponsoring meters. And though there are no concrete plans yet, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon has discussed the possibility of taking the program county-wide.

"We'd be willing to host the program," Corroon said.

The county mayor said he has seen individuals donating their change to the HOST meters.

"It looks like people are noticing them, and they're in good locations," Corroon said.

Ross said the program works with nine homeless service providers, in addition to multiple city organizations and private entities. The Pamela J. Atkinson Foundation works with providers to ensure the funds are used to help those in need.

"Our whole goal, of course, is to get them into permanent, supportive housing," said Atkinson, who also serves as a member of the Deseret News' Editorial Advisory Board.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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