Last month, I spent a week in Philadelphia and DC — two great urban cities in the country — and before returning to LA, I stopped by Bethesda, MD (a suburb of DC) because I heard it was a successful example of a TOD (transit oriented development) in the DC metro system. Downtown Bethesda was quaint and walkable from the metro station and reminded me a bit of Old Town Pasadena with its mix of chain and indie businesses like Apple and Georgetown Cupcakes. But one thing that stuck out to me while walking along the main drag, Bethesda Ave, was a red “homeless donation meter” that I thought could be an idea for us here in Downtown LA.
After Googling “homeless donation meters,” I realized that many other cities across the country have also implemented this potentially effective program to curb aggressive panhandling. From Denver to Orlando, San Francisco to Miami, municipalities have been receptive to this new method for “ending homelessness.”
Here in Downtown LA, we have arguably one of the most aggressive panhandling environments in the country. Visiting Philly and DC last month — two of the largest urban cities in the country — I was surprised to see that although homeless individuals were definitely present in significant numbers, panhandling wasn’t as much an issue as it is here walking through Downtown LA, which can sometimes feel like dodging through a gauntlet of endless hands and cups begging for change. The issue has become one of the most pressing for residents who live downtown who must endure this unpleasant experience on a daily basis.
The idea behind these red homeless donation meters is simple. Instead of giving change to a panhandler on the street, a person who feels compelled can donate their change into these meters, which then goes directly to affiliated missions and homeless care and prevention programs. In fact, Denver’s donation meter program has been so successful, $100,000 is raised annually through 36 meters placed strategically around Downtown Denver.
It is important to keep in mind the program is meant to educate the public that giving pocket change to panhandlers won’t actually help the homeless. In fact, it likely financially supports any addictions the individual may already have including drugs and alcohol. If more and more people are aware of this, then the goal is that they won’t give out change anymore. And if the homeless understand that the general public won’t be easily swayed into handing out pocket change anymore, then it could help mitigate the panhandling issue.
If we can also install these red donation meters strategically around Downtown LA, it could be the beginning of wresting some kind of control back to the public in dealing with the prevalent panhandling issue. Once the general public (including the homeless) is aware of these red donation meters, monetary generosity can be funneled toward this effective alternative that helps the homeless and curbs panhandling at the same time.