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Feed the Meters, Feed the Homeless

10:33 AM EDT on June 9, 2008

Brad Aaron files this report from Athens, Georgia. 

Bounded by the 615-acre campus of the University of Georgia (student population: 25,000), downtown Athens is in the midst of a decades-long revival. When department stores and other businesses left the area for shopping malls in the 70s, budding entrepreneurs took advantage of resulting cheap rents on vacated commercial storefronts, rebuilding downtown as a lab for locally owned restaurants, bars and retail shops. Though the rents are considerably higher today, the unique character of Athens' central business district remains.

With thousands of students, professors, business people and visitors streaming through downtown most every day, the block closest to campus, known as College Square, is a favorite spot for soliciting passersby for change. In an effort to discourage this particular brand of commerce, in 2003 the city followed the lead of other towns by retooling four defunct parking meters as coin receptacles for the Northeast Georgia Homeless Coalition (San Francisco recently took up a similar program as well). 

The meters do raise money for the coalition, though panhandling is still a common activity. Fortunately for those who rely on loose change for income, Athens' bargain basement on-street parking rates -- 25 cents an hour, $3 for an expired meter -- leave plenty of loot to go around.

We'll have more on Athens later this week.

Photo: Brad Aaron

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