Spare change, sir? Feed the meter, Ottawa mayor says

Mayor Larry O'Brien is encouraging generous Ottawa residents not to reach for their wallets as they pass the scruffy panhandlers who beg for spare change from the city's cold sidewalks.

Mayor Larry O'Brien is encouraging generous Ottawa residents not to reach for their wallets as they pass the scruffy panhandlerswho beg for spare change on the city'scold sidewalks.

Instead, the public should save their loonies and toonies for special coin banks or "kindness meters" similar to parking meters that will be installed in the Byward Market this week,O'Brien told CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers on Friday's edition of Sounds Like Canada.

The moneywill be distributed togroups that help the poor.

"It goes to the shelters, it goes to the social service agencies, it can provide food and accommodation to the people, so it's a different way to help these people,"O'Brien said.

On Monday, a spokesman for the mayor's office said about 10 meters will be set upand they will bewill be painted a different color from regular parking meters so people won't become confused.

The planis notwell publicized because the mayor isn't quite ready to launch the program, thespokesman said, adding that the mayor hasn't figured out where exactly the meters will go, how much they will cost, or even which charities will benefit from them. However, he said themayorwill unveil all the details of the plan sometime before Christmas.

The meters are similar tocoin banks installed in Winnipeg, in several B.C. cities, and 60installed in Montreallast summer. The ones in Montreal collect about $700 a week, said a spokesman for the program,which is maintained and promoted using private sponsorship.

The city said the meters are not a municipal project, and Coun. Georges Bédard, whose ward includes the Byward Market, said he had not heard about them.

"We weren't advised that they were being installed, nor were there any discussions with us about how the money would be distributed," Bédard said, although he added that he likes the idea.

Diane Morrison, director of anagency that offers services tothe homeless in the Byward Market area, said she thinks the idea is worth a try, although she emphasized that there is nothing wrong with panhandling. She added that if hergroup, theOttawa Mission,receives money from the meters, it will go toward rehabilitation programs that help people deal with their addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Gord Diamond, chair of the Downtown Ottawa Coalition for a Safe Community, which represents several business improvement associations and social agencies, said his group has discussed the meters in the past.

"It's a great idea and we heartily support it," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday. "Giving money to panhandlers, we know very well, often supports drug and alcohol addiction.… We would like you to give that money to agencies which can really make a difference and change people's lives."

He added that his group is launching a campaign of ads on busestopublicize that message as the Christmas season of generosity begins.