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Feed the meter; change a life

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- There are lots of parking meters downtown. But only a few take your pocket change to change the lives of others. The United Way's “Make a Change” donation meter project is in place to reduce the problem of panhandling downtown. Ten meters are in place in panhandling hot spots. The meters give generous folks who want to help another option besides just giving out money.

“Most dollars that go to panhandlers do not go to breaking the cycle of homelessness. They go to less valuable causes such as alcohol, tobacco, or even substance abuse,” said Dan Ferrell, Director of the 10-year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.

Ferrell says many panhandlers aren't really homeless. The meters are going to be permanent fixtures downtown, and the backs of the meters have a list of resources, such as food banks and shelters, to make it easier for the homeless to find help.

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The professional panhandlers have moved South

They're in Florida or New Orleans for the Winter, but they'll be back next Spring, sitting on medians at busy intersections, holding cardboard signs and claiming to be "hungry vets who will work for food."

You will never, however, see one of them take off with anyone who offers him or her a job.

You see, panhandling *IS* their job. A few of them will rent some dive or live out of a van, if they have one. They mooch a few bucks from the suckers every day, which enables them to buy some food, beer, and cigarettes, kick in for some gas, and throw a bit in for the rent if there is any.

Ever wonder why they're never out there at night, or early in the morning? That's because their "pickup" comes to retrieve them in late afternoon and usually doesn't drop them off until late morning. (Being a full-time bum is hard work and requires a lot of sleep.)

So when they come back with the ospreys next Spring, go ahead and ask one if he wants to clean up a yard, paint, trim bushes, or any other job you need done. Then listen to the tale of woe, as to why he can't do manual labor.

Another fun pastime is to sit at the light and give them the Dirty Harry stare.....they can't look you in the eye, because they know that you have them pegged as a phony.