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Kindness Meters?

Ottawa's Kindness MeterDon’t you just love how Mayor Larry comes up with all these facile ‘solutions’ to complex problems? Scrap the crack kit program to get rid of addicts. Bribe the competition to bypass democracy. Install “Kindness Meters” to eliminate panhandlers.

The Kindness Meters, if you haven’t heard, are refurbished parking meters, now being used as the City’s panhandling machines. There are six of them stationed around the Byward Market.

Mayor Larry’s idea is that we should put our loonies and toonies in the kindness meters instead of giving them to panhandlers. The City will empty the meters and distribute the change to social service agencies like Operation Go Home and The Mission, which provide services to homeless people.

Panhandling machine, OttawaI see several problems with the Kindness Meters.

1) They’re insulting to poor people. The underlying assumption is that poor people can’t be trusted to know what they need.

2) They attempt to dehumanize compassion. Giving is about a compassionate spark that sometimes flashes between two human beings. I don’t give to every panhandler I see – far from it. But when I do give, it’s because I feel something for that human being at that moment. Maybe Mayor Larry has never felt that for another human being, but I will never feel it for a machine.

3) Kindness Meters could conceivably lead to an increase in crime. If, as Mayor Larry says, panhandlers are using our spare change to feed their addictions (and no doubt some of them are), how will they feed their addictions without our spare change? Because one thing’s for damned sure: the Kindness Meters aren’t going to cure anybody’s addiction. Build a treatment centre already! In the meantime, if my spare change means someone doesn’t have to break into a house or turn a trick she doesn’t want to turn, I’m good with that.

4) The Kindness Meters introduce a layer of bureaucracy into the equation. Instead of individuals directly helping individuals, we now have to pay the City to collect and administer our spare change. (There are similar meters in Montreal. Each one pull in an average of $11 a week.)

5) There is no guarantee that the panhandlers most directly in need will receive any help. Many mentally ill people, for instance, are too frightened to use shelters or social services.

6) The Kindness Meters put social service agencies in direct competition with their clients for our spare change. I’m actually quite surprised that these agencies agreed to take this money, and would like to know how they justify it.

7) How elitist of the Kindness Meters to only take loonies and toonies!

Kindness Meter PropagandaBut my main objection to the Kindness Meters? The concept is based on hypocrisy and stinginess.

Larry O’Brien pretends that these meters will offer “real” change, instead of spare change, to homeless people. I call bullshit.

This is the same mayor who compared homeless people to pigeons and said if we stopped feeding them, they’d go away. We know where he stands on this issue. When he tries to fake compassion he just looks like the rich, stingy hypocrite he is.

This initiative is not about alleviating poverty or helping homeless people meet their basic needs or offering solutions to people who need real change. It’s about sweeping people with problems out of sight for the benefit of businesses and tourists. It’s about pretending we’re doing enough so we don’t have to feel guilty about the miserable conditions some of our fellow citizens are living in. It’s about creating the illusion of universal prosperity and well-being in downtown Ottawa by getting rid of anybody who is down and out.

The reality is that we do have a mix of people in this city, and some of them are poor and some of them are mentally ill and some of them are addicts. I’m all in favour of real change and real solutions. But let’s not pretend that’s what we’re doing by putting up some so-called “Kindness Meters.” It’s just a hostile attempt to drive away the street people, and there’s nothing kind about it.


17 comments to Kindness Meters?

  • What has happened to the program they had a few years ago with those summer “ambassadors” who encouraged you not to give to panhandlers? I found them offensive too. Get in my face (politely) for giving apples to the homeless? Screw you!

    Great post.

  • Good grief. Perhaps he still things of them as pigeons – if you don’t feed the birds, they won’t keep coming back. Someone should educate him on the fact that in Canada, some people are not more equal than others.

  • What is the Downtown Ottawa Coalition? The references that I can find point to their (whoever they might be) interest in Ottawa’s transit plans, particularly as they affect Downtown. No mention of this kindness metre BS though.

  • Anonymous Bosch

    Two words: crazy glue.

  • Dirtwitch – good memory, I’d forgotten all about the so-called ambassadors. I think it was another failed project, because I don’t remember seeing them after that first summer.

    Lissa, I have no doubt he still thinks of them as pigeons, though he probably regrets ever saying it out loud.

    Dave – according to this orphaned page, the Downtown Ottawa Coalition for a Safe Community includes Councilor Georges Bédard, Ottawa City Police, Rideau Street and Byward market BIA, the Ottawa Mission, the Shepherds of Good Hope, the Salvation Army, Centre 454 and Cornerstone. The Coalition does not appear to have a website.

    AB – that would work. 😉

  • Hey Zoom here’s something to warm the cockles of your heart…there aren’t any *visible* homeless here in Wolfville. But I met a woman this morning who works with people leaving shelters and halfway homes in the Valley, helping them get established with basic household supplies and furnishings. I offered to give her a huge pile of bedding I had in my giveaways and she said not to donate to her community service, because they get tons of donations because they are so visible and publically funded. Instead she gave me the name of a store in New Minas that collects bedding to give to those in need who are not so easily served by social services. Lots of people are COLD this time of year and are too proud to access social service agencies, but they’ll accept wool blankets from a woman in the community who offers with an open heart without stigmatizing them.

  • Unkind thoughts about kindness meters…

    What blogger “Zoom!” says is better than anything I could write. This initiative is not about alleviating…

  • krothe

    lol, perhaps the city could just start by donating all the xtra cash they rake out of the meter to start with, like when I put a damn twoonie in do I get what I paid for ..Noooo.., I still get the one hour max, heaven forbid I get that extra 7 minutes that I paid for :P.

    oh and btw, dont bother with the smart cards, they too are still limited by the meters, which makes them fairly useless.

  • Em

    Wow, you TOTALLY summed-up my opinion of this O’Brien bullshit. Thank you.
    I’m curious how long these things will actually last out there.

  • I had no idea there were out there. I think your assessment is right on the money (no pun intended), especially the dehumanizing aspect of things. Let’s not get our hands dirty folks!

  • kermujin

    zoom, this is great stuff. I followed your link from LATOC, and am glad I did. Your point-by-point deconstruction showing just what is so wrongheaded about this idea is spot-on.
    I’m on the far left of you (map-wise, anyway :), but sans ‘kindness meters,’ I find the same ‘rich-man’s burden’ bullshit out here. Argh.
    Nice work! Thanks for the alert.

  • Thanks kermujin. I like that term, “rich-man’s burden.” Here’s a quote for you:

    “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.” (Herman Melville)

  • […] 1. Best Blog Post. This one’s a bit tricky. Two of my posts have been short-listed in this category: The Real Reason I Support the Crack Kit Program, and Kindness Meters. You can only vote once. If you like one of these posts and don’t like the other one, by all means vote for the one you like. But if you want to vote for me and you like both posts equally, please vote for The Real Reason I Support the Crack Kit Program. This is in order to minimize the vote-splitting effect that comes from having two entries in the same category. (I told you I take this stuff seriously.) […]

  • Wow, also fantastic post… I will do as you wish and vote for the Crack Kit post.

  • Edmonton had these meters around the turn of the century: the homeless people trashed them and would stand in front of them blocking people’s access.

    They aren’t interested in funding to homeless shelters, addictions programs, and treatment centres (where 100% of the Edmonton revnue was directed). They want free money from you for their booze and their drugs.

    Its up to you: do you want to help them, or do you want to give them spare change? You cannot do both. They want you to do the latter: but if they were really that wise with their personal choices they wouldn’t be there now would they?