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Old St. Petersburg parking meters collect donations to help the homeless

The bright yellow donation stations will be in downtown 
St. Petersburg to raise money for homeless initiatives.
The bright yellow donation stations will be in downtown St. Petersburg to raise money for homeless initiatives.
Published Oct. 15, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Later this week, residents will start to see a new kind of meter around downtown.

The city has taken a dozen old parking meters, painted them bright yellow, and slapped stickers that say "The Power of Change" on them. Workers will install them in places — not parking spots — where people gather, as a kind of donation station.

The idea is for people to fill them with coins — money that will go to the city's homeless outreach team.

"Since January we've been taking steps to address this important issue," Mayor Rick Kriseman said during a news conference Tuesday at St. Vincent de Paul, where he highlighted ongoing initiatives to address homelessness. "We are adding another tool to our toolbox."

A similar donation meter program operates in Denver, which Kriseman said brings in as much as $100,000 a year.

Cliff Smith, the city's manager of veterans, social and homeless services, said St. Petersburg officials don't expect the meters here to generate the same sums, but said it's a good start.

The first of 12 meters will be installed near the popular Bella Brava restaurant on Beach Drive at Second Avenue N.

Kriseman noted that shortly after he took office in January, an annual point-in-time survey counted 5,887 homeless individuals in Pinellas County, including about 2,500 children.

"Half of those counted lived here in St. Petersburg," Kriseman said, "These are unacceptable numbers. This numbers cannot coexist with our vision of being a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all."

Kriseman also reiterated what's been done already this year about the issue, including:

• Partnerships with organizations like the county Homeless Leadership Board, Juvenile Welfare Board, Boley Centers and others.

• An increase in spending on homeless prevention and shelters. The City Council approved giving St. Vincent $75,000 to expand its day program. It also doubled its $50,000 contribution to Pinellas Safe Harbor, the mid county shelter that houses up to 450 people a night on property next to the Pinellas County Jail. Both initiatives were recommended by Robert Marbut, a homeless consultant whom the mayor invited back to the city this year.

• Renewed talks among county officials to restart the Sheriff's Office's jail diversion program for the chronically homeless.

• An emphasis on Williams Park, which is the epicenter of many of the city's visible homeless problems. Police will continue to focus on the park, he said, and officials are redesigning bus shelters to address safety concerns. Kriseman also said residents can expect to start seeing more community events there soon, including food trucks.

"We're already making a lot of progress," Smith said. "We're not done yet. But I'm seeing great things."

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.