The 17 meters, painted by 45-year-old Detroit graffiti artist, Antonio “Shades” Agee, mark the first phase of the “Detroit Donates” campaign in both public and private spaces.
“Homelessness is a real issue,” City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield Sheffield said during a Tuesday news conference inside Santorini Estiatorio on Monroe Street. “It’s something that we must address. It cannot be ignored.”
Under the program, donations will be collected by depositing change into the meters, by corporate sponsorship, and through the website detroitdonates.org. The first meters were installed Monday and are now in use.
Organizers say the change alone isn’t expected to bring in much profit. The real driver will be securing corporate sponsorships with levels of commitment that range from $1,500 to $7,000 per year.
Agee, who spent most of his 20s living on the streets, said being involved in the project really hit home.
Agee said the program will ensure the money goes where it needs to because “some people don’t know how to give.”
Anitha Papas of the Greektown Preservation Society noted the meters will serve a dual purpose: collecting loose change and serving as a symbol of those in need, with funds being directed toward transportation, housing and job training services. Similar efforts have been effective in other U.S. cities, including: Washington, D.C., Denver and Indianapolis.
The initial pilot phase the program will be concentrated in the city’s central business district. Organizers hope to expand next into Campus Martius.
The council’s Homelessness Task Force will be selecting the certified nonprofits or churches that will receive donations to be directed toward programming.
“Some believe that the homeless are less than human. But homeless people are part of our community,” Sheffield said. “We have to embrace them and help them and encourage them. I believe that this program will help do that.”