Plugging away 

Heimlicher continues crusade for meters to help area's homeless

click to enlarge Colorful meters may help the homeless. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY

A lot of cooperation launched Denver's donation meter project in 2007, according to Jamie Van Leeuwen, project manager for that city's 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Public Works donated the old parking meters that would become donation receptacles; the Downtown Denver Partnership found locations for them; organizations assisting the homeless spread the word; businesses paid extra costs. "The donation meter project is owned by the community," says Van Leeuwen.

Colorado Springs' version? At present, it's owned largely by one man: City Councilor Jerry Heimlicher. By September, Heimlicher hopes to start putting up colorfully painted meters inside businesses and city buildings. He hopes to have 50 of the meters around town by the end of the year, and 100 by the end of 2009.

The idea is simple: Drop your pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters into a meter, where they're guaranteed to go to charities that help the homeless, rather than into the hands of a panhandler, who may or may not put them toward necessities such as food, transportation and toiletries.

"I think most of us really want to help people that are less fortunate than we are," Heimlicher says. "But I really want to help them; I don't want to be conned."

Heimlicher has Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, excited at the prospect of funneling more money toward homelessness. As is true of so many nonprofits in this economic climate, the homeless-related charities that his organization binds together are in serious need, Holmes says.

But Heimlicher's effort starting with the search for free or cheap meters hasn't been easy. He started working on the project last year, but so far he has secured just five donation meters.

The meters are popular with Internet shoppers, who turn them into piggy banks and lamps. Greg Warnke, city parking administrator, thinks he's secured 25 more, but reaching 50 by the end of the year will be a challenge. And if Warnke has to pay for the meters, and he likely will, someone will have to pay him back.

"As an enterprise, I can't just give meters away to the cause," Warnke says.

A $2,500 check secured from Wal-Mart will help Heimlicher, but he needs more not only to buy meters, but also to install and maintain them, and to buy paint for the local artists decorating them. (The first five have been painted by artists at the Smokebrush Foundation.) He also has to figure out the logistics of the program, and to find volunteers to help him run it.

So there's a ways to go before the Springs can reach Denver's level of success. Up there, all 86 donation meters have been sponsored annually by a private citizen or business for $1,000. And that money, along with change collected, has brought in a little over $100,000 a year for Denver's homeless charities.

Plus, it has helped advertise the 10-year Road Home project, which has drawn public, private and nonprofit entities and millions of dollars. In its first two years, the plan which includes building housing for the homeless, boosting substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, and finding people jobs catalyzed an 11 percent reduction in Denver's overall homeless population, and a 36 percent reduction in its chronic homelessness.



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