“It is just a piece of the puzzle,” said PCC computer graphic design professor Jerry Graves, talking about new street signs he made with his students. The signs reads, “Give with Confidence. Homes for the homeless” and lists the website for the Real Change Movement.
They had to come up with a message that says that it is okay not to give to panhandlers if you don’t feel like it, but that there is another effective way to help the homeless. “How do you get the right message across in a positive way? It is just a sign. We want to give people a message of hope, we don’t want them to think they shouldn’t give money to panhandlers.”
He knew it was a big story.
Some of you might have noticed these new signs, there are eight of them so far. Their location has been carefully chosen by the city of Pasadena, selecting the spots where panhandlers congregate, on and off along the 210 freeway ramps.
“Everybody wants to help the homeless,” director of housing for the city of Pasadena, and former PCC student, William Huang said. “But not everybody is comfortable donating to a panhandler because they don’t know how they will spend the money, so they don’t give anything. This sign is for that group of people.”
On the signs, all standing tall next to panhandlers, there is picture of an orange meter with a bright yellow smiley face on it. They remind us of the meters located in the crowded streets of Old Town Pasadena where people can drop in their change, or simply swipe their credit card. As easy as that.
The meter donation program was developed in 2014 by the city and by the Flintridge Center, a program provider for individuals of high-risk and high-need circumstances. Last year it collected $4,000, and United Way has matched it. With $8,000 the service provider Union Station has helped twenty people find a house by paying the deposit, the first month of rent, and furniture.
“Everyone needs a bed and a refrigerator,” Huang said.
Jonathan Scherck, housing navigator for Union Station, works daily with people who have lost their home.
“It can happen to anyone,” Scherck said. “There are less popular causes for homelessness like criminal records and substance abuse, but the reality is a lot of the people I work with are in that situation because they are out of employment, underemployed, or mentally ill. Especially here in LA, and I can speak from my own experience, if you don’t have a good paying job it is very difficult to afford decent housing. People take that for granted, they have never known anything else, but not everyone is so fortunate. It is not just unwillingness to work, it is a lot of very different factors, that it is important to keep in mind.”
Huang is expecting to raise double the money this year. The program has been such a success that meters and signs will pop up in West Palm Beach (FL) and the city of Los Angeles.
“We want to become a global movement,” the president of the Flintridge Center, and former PCC student, Jaylene Moseley said. “We offer our graphic work but any city is free to create their campaign and to collect the money. We would really like to put a meter on the PCC’s campus as well. Our goal is to raise awareness on homelessness.”
Meanwhile, on and off the busy ramps of the 210 freeway, panhandlers next to these somewhat ambivalent signs hope drivers will not stop donating directly into their hands.
“I don’t know where the money from the meters go,” said veteran Mike Hernandez while panhandling on Lake and Corson Avenue in a twist of reciprocal doubt. “But I know that when someone gives me few bucks, I can go to Taco and eat.”