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Amid early success in another community, giving meters in talks for Oak Park

To address the village of Oak Park’s issue with panhandling, officials are looking to weigh their options as it regards finding a safer, more reliable way to help support those in need.

At a recent meeting of the Oak Park Village Board, Trustee Dan Moroney suggested the village look into implementing giving meters in the downtown areas.

“I saw the concept in Rapid City, South Dakota,” Moroney said. “I was on family vacation. … Across the country, it’s being done where there’s an uptick in the homeless population and a concern about getting resources for homeless people to the best source that could provide the greatest amount of good to the homeless population.”

The idea surfaced at the time the village sought to repeal its panhandling ordinance.

The village has not taken steps to explore what it would take to make giving meters a reality in the downtown areas, to date.

Moroney said he thinks the initiative would require buy-in from local nonprofit organizations.

Among the Oak Park area organizations that aim to support homeless populations is Housing Forward.

Janet Gow, director of development and communications for Housing Forward, had this to say.

“While installing giving meters might give potential donors the assurance their money will provide services for those that are homeless, we can’t assume those that are panhandling on the streets are either homeless or seeking services from Housing Forward,” she said. “I think efforts to end homelessness in our community must include long-term solutions, like affordable housing [and other measures] spare change can’t solve.”

Gow did not turn down the idea over potential added work for Housing Forward staff.

“That’ll be given consideration,” she said. “We get donations from a lot of different sources. Congregations collect offerings on our behalf. … We get financial support from a lot of different places and vehicles that we try to solicit donations, but I wouldn’t assume that managing the giving meters would be up to us. It would have to be up to the village.”

Gow questioned if the giving meters would reduce panhandling exhibited on the streets of Oak Park.

Among the communities to have introduced giving meters is Rapid City, S. D.

“It has been helpful,” said Dan Senftner, president and CEO of Destination Rapid City. “Has it been a huge success? No.”

The initiative requires effort to communicate to the public what the giving meters are set up for. The city of Rapid City provided the old parking meters to be repurposed as giving meters.

“People talked about [the giving meters,] and they still do,” Senftner said.

Senftner said the reasons for introducing the giving meters about six months ago became clear over time.

“We saw more and more panhandling,” he said. “It’s what we saw.”

Rapid City is weighing the prospect of installing more giving meters.

“If they’re [panhandling,] they’re doing it more where the meters are not,” Senftner said. “They hang around the meter areas less.”

Senftner credits the early success of the giving meters to Rapid City’s tourist appeal.

“We’ve got a lot of traffic that goes here with the tourism industry,” he said. “We’re very busy here.”