Installing parking meters specially equipped to accept donations for worthy causes — most typically homeless services — is an ingenious idea that’s catching on in cities across the nation.
Denver has perhaps the best known and most successful program. It collects approximately $100,000 per year for homeless services and, according to some accounts, has contributed to a more than 80 percent drop in the number of panhandlers in the city.
Now, we have the opportunity to put “giving meters” to the test in San Luis Obispo.
Last week, a Change for Change program was launched downtown as a two-year pilot. Seven specially marked meters, equipped to accept donations, have been installed at various high-profile downtown locations. The meters take coins and credit cards. Donations to the program also can be made online to United Way.
United Way will disperse Change for Change donations to Friends of Prado, a key financial supporter of the Prado Day Center, which provides a variety of homeless services, including counseling and referrals.
Police Chief Steve Gesell, who’s been a big proponent of the Change for Change program, is hoping it will encourage people to donate to homeless services rather than to panhandlers. To get that point across, the installation of meters has been accompanied by a promotional campaign urging would-be givers to “support solutions, not addictions.”
“Handouts don’t help. If you give panhandlers money, you could actually be feeding their addiction,” states a promotional flier to be displayed at downtown businesses.
Will the program make a difference?
We don’t expect an overnight reduction in the number of panhandlers downtown. Nor do we expect the public to stop giving to panhandlers.
Panhandling, after all, is not illegal, and whether someone chooses to give to a stranger asking for help is a deeply personal choice, whether it’s in downtown San Luis Obispo, San Francisco or Santiago.
But we believe that many who visit the downtown area — be they locals or visitors — want to help those in need, yet they have legitimate concerns about donating directly to panhandlers.
Dropping change in a giving meter provides that opportunity to help. It’s fast, convenient and private, and the program lets visitors know the community is actively looking for solutions to homelessness.
With the public’s support, over time the program could generate substantial revenue and help lead to the cultural shift that Gesell advocates and The Tribune Editorial Board strongly supports: one that emphasizes help for those who are homeless, rather than handouts.