Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza unveiled the first of ten so-called giving meters Thursday, making Rhode Island's capital the latest city to adopt refurbished parking meters as tools aimed at helping residents in need.
Orlando, Denver, and New Haven are among the cities that have already adopted the meters. The idea is that residents can place charitable donations into refurbished parking meters or a city website, instead of handing cash to panhandlers on the street.
“You know they want to give but they’re concerned about giving directly to panhandlers because it might be used to feed a habit or used for something they didn’t intend,” Elorza said at the unveiling.
According to Elorza, the money collected will be distributed to city approved organizations that work with the city’s homeless population.
“This is a collaborative approach, it’s a creative approach and most importantly it’s a compassionate approach that people experiencing homelessness and panhandlers face throughout the city,” the mayor said.
But Megan Hustings, Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said she worries the giving meters will cause a breakdown in how residents treat people on the street.
“Giving to somebody money on the streets or the act of giving or asking for money is really a personal thing there’s the opportunity for interaction or compassion and kind of, some basic human needs are being taken care of,” Hustings said.
Hustings also has concerns about the effectiveness of these meters.
“There has not been a city where a significant amount of money was collected through the meters. Our opinion is that these efforts or any effort to ban or limit panhandling is not an effective use of a city’s time,” Hustings said.
Denver was one of the first cities to adopt the concept in 2006 with Denver’s Road Home. Officials claim to have collected more than $230,000 since the program’s inception.
“The one thing that I always try to emphasize is that this is just as much about public awareness and public education as it is about raising money,” said Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for Denver’s Road Home.
According to Smith, the city’s 85 giving meters have been collecting an average of $3,000 a year in donations. Businesses can sponsor a meter for $1,000 in exchange for a small plaque with their name on it. Smith said the sponsorships have brought in as much as $30,000 a year in the past.
But for cities with fewer meters sprinkled around their city, collections can be a lot less. In Orlando, officials reported just $200 from their 12 meters in 2016.
In Providence, the first $1,000 meter stands in front of City Hall, as downtown businesses push for reductions in panhandling and loitering.
Though Mayor Elorza said it’s hard to know how much money the meters will raise, he was happy to slide his credit card through the slot to make the first donation.