Feed the Meters, Feed the Homeless

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

  • Great idea. I hope other cities and municipalities adopt such a simple, novel idea.

  • brian g

    athens also has a great indie music scene. rem got their start there

  • I think I’ve still got a handful of parking tickets from downtown Athens. Friends and I would routinely park illegally on football game days downtown, precisely because a ticket for parking there illegally all day long close to campus was much cheaper than paying to park anywhere else legal. On campus, the parking tickets were much more expensive, and tied to your student record meaning you had to pay to get your grades.

    People would bitch all day about how there “was no parking downtown”, though, even at its busiest, there were still two downtown decks, and plenty of parking if you were willing to walk more than 7 minutes. Generally terrible parking demand management.

    And then I started living downtown and walking/biking everywhere I went and that was the end of that for me.

    Ah, Athens…how i miss you, your 75 cent PBR’s, wonderful nightly music, and neverending good cheap food and coffee.

  • Mitch

    I passed through Athens once (by car, alas) on the way to Florida. My most vivid memory is of a drugstore that sold 50 cent ice cream cones (I’m sure Steve Davis will know its name).

    I also noticed a really nice bike path, along the edge of a wooded ravine. But when the path crossed a main road, a sign instructed rides to “Walk Bikes Across Highway.”

    I can’t believe that anybody actually followed those instructionis, but still…

  • Moser

    Athens has an awesome nighttime pro bike race around one of its downtown squares.

  • Brad, great to read your name again

  • Girldawg

    Those .50 ice cream cones can be found at Hodson’s Pharmacy in Five Points.

  • Girldawg

    And that would be HODGSON’S Pharmacy…sorry….still in Five Points, though!


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