I thought the donation meter might have been an Onion spoof when I first saw it. Particularly when it was somebody called John W. Hickenlooper talking about it. But they are real. Hickenlooper is Denver’s mayor and he introduced them to help raise money for projects aimed at helping the city’s homeless people.

Picture 14

The converted parking meters are placed near shopping malls and outside stores in areas where homeless people might be found asking for spare change. They are a giving option for people who want to help but might be worried how coins dropped into a paper cup could be used. All money collected goes directly to provide services such as counselling for people who abuse drugs and alcohol, through to medical help and job training. It’s all part of Denver’s campaign to end homelessness, Denver’s Road Home.

Does it work? Well, each meter raises about $55 a month. The original 36 meters were sponsored at $1,000 each so it generated about $38,000 in the first 30 days. But it seems it might have been more valuable as a symbol to focus people’s attention on the issue of homelessness. A local supermarket chain, King Soopers, got involved and gave over $45,000 and other local business have introduced inexpensive plastic meters, which are raising up to $200 a time.

It’s not a new idea. The converted parking meters were first introduced in Baltimore andnow they are popping up in other US cities too, with Atlanta being the latest city to get involved.

The approach behind the programme is different from those we might see in the UK from organisations such as Shelter, Centrepoint or The YMCA. Hickenlooper talks about his homelessness programme in terms of the cost benefit the city will receive. It’s about how much money that can be saved through the project as much as it is about the people who need help.

It’s an interesting method which might have it’s roots in Hickenlooper’s background as an entrepreneur whose business interests helped redevelop the city’s downtown area. We often assume that the approach we use is
always the best one. Maybe Hickenlooper is tapping in to his own understanding of donor needs here and generating both publicity and income as a result.