downtown los angeles, Ideas for Downtown LA

Ideas for Downtown LA: Give to Homeless Donation Meters to Curb Panhandling

Red donation meters like this one in Bethesda, MD are becoming effective alternatives to giving change to panhandlers in many US cities

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.

“Spare Change to End Homelessness”


  1. thank you for sharing this informaiton Bringham. I think it’s a great idea. Now if we could convince the rest of downtown that would be great. Let me know how I can help.

  2. I love this idea and I think it could really be an impetus for some change– giving money to the meters would be an investment as well as a handout. I wonder if any of the BIDs could install these to offset or even add more of the janitorial jobs through Chrysalis. I understand that installation costs could be 1k-1.5k per meter, but surely there must be ways to pay for these– especially if they can bring in 100k a year. Maybe there is some wealthy DTLA resident who is annoyed by the panhandling and wants to front the money and get paid back with the first donations???

  3. Karen says

    Very cool idea. I would love to have something like this implemented in LA and Pasadena!

  4. This would be amazing! Do you know why it would cut down on people asking though? Have other cities shared their stories?

  5. Clark says

    Having spent a number of years refusing money to panhandlers in downtown LA, I’m pretty sure this might give our homeless population a new favorite place to camp out. Right in front of the meter, so people will inclined to give to them instead of the meter.

    • Roger S. says

      Agreed. the only way to curb panhandling (not too mention all the other related issues of having bums all over the city) is to get rid of the homeless. I honestly don’t care how. Push them south or something.

      I love downtown, but I feel like we pay way too much in rent and taxes to have to deal with this problem. Huizar can talk about the “future of downtown” all he wants, but it’s pretty clear that the neighborhood won’t achieve its true potential until the bums are gone.

      • Stan says

        Roger –

        I must say you have a really uneducated and self righteous opinion about this matter. The homeless people were in downtown LA before you were. The whole reason why they are invading your coffee shops and lofts are because this area was complete gentrified within the last 6-7 years. Pushing them away wouldn’t solve the problem.

        What was once low rent housing for the homeless has been turned into modern lofts.

        Most homeless people are mentally ill, and with no insane asylums or places for these people to go they are left to live on the streets. As a society what are we supposed to do?

        With an attitude like that, we’ll never find a reasonable and compassionate solution.

        All the bums will never be gone. But hopefully you will. You douche.

  6. summer says

    I have definitely experienced “aggressive” panhandling (after offering a homeless man my breakfast because I had no cash he proceeded to follow me to my parking lot and attempted to hit me with his shoe while I wasn’t looking–I saw his reflection in the window of my car and turned around in time–he was so angry that I didn’t give him money that he wanted to teach me a lesson). I’ve been screamed at. I’ve been followed. I think this idea is a great step towards educating the public–and long term might make panhandling not worth the effort for most of the homeless. I’d much rather see my money go straight to the actual shelters and missions in the area where I know the people benefiting from it are seeking real help.

  7. First time hearing about this awesome program. DTLA would be a perfect candidate.

  8. What a terrific idea! We we in SF this week and didn’t see these — but sure saw plenty of panhandlers as we exited the BART on Market St.
    BTW, the BART zoned fare made us home-sick for our LA flat-rate system — even with paying for each train ride, most of the rides we take in LA come out to be a better bargain than for similar distance on BART!

  9. Jackie says

    Oh I like it. Lets do it!! And yes some not all are aggressive. But who knows…. Last time I was watching the store one ran in and ran straight for the back office and started going through the supplies…….. Fun times.

    But back to the idea…. great one!

  10. Most of the Skid Row Missions have been around for close to a century. If the people of DT think simply “giving more money to the Missions” is going to solve the problems of Skid Row and DT, don’t you think they would have solved things by now? Time to scratch below the surface of whats really going on here. I am not saying that the Missions don’t serve a valuable purpose- they do. I’m saying they are not solving the homeless problem DT or preventing panhandling.

  11. I hardly ever carry cash anyway, but when someone asks me for money, I press a button on a counter app that I have on my phone. Each time the counter reaches 25 or so, I make a $25 donation to Home For Good, the Rotary Foundation, or another nonprofit working to make life better for those less fortunate. Obviously I can’t singlehandedly solve homelessness or poverty, but it’s good to know my money is going toward an organization that has more resources to do so.

  12. Clifton says

    Helping the homeless is everyone’s humanly responsibilities. It’s what feeds our since of sympathy. We for as long as we lived here as a species had people who were in need. It can feel overwhelming,especially when so many are asking in a relatively short distance. But there are ways to detect deceit. For example, listen to why they’re asking for money, does it seem believable. An pay attention to how they look, smell ,and speak. Most homeless only ask when in need. Drug addicts ask almost non stop, con artist never really look convincing. Listen to how how much fuss they make over accepting alternatives. If they’re rude well you’ll know what to do. An most importantly have a conversation with them, you’ll find in a lot of case’s they are cool people to just with more problems.
    Oh cash is needed for all things. Yes- missions feed but on at short tight schedule and inost cases not enough. Then there’s allergies. An what about those who collect and disperse the money.
    Charities are nothing more than fortune 500 panhandlers. Donations come in but only a fraction of a percentage actually makes it to the one’s who live on the streets. An never has any charity gone into the streets in search of those in need to give to. An more often at and all help comes with conditions.
    Homelessness can be a really big easy fix. It just takes everyone to want to help from the heart indiscriminately. There’s more people who can help than there are those who need it.

Comments are closed.