As part of a grassroots campaign to fight homelessness, the City of Denver began installing “donation” parking meters last year. The meters are effort by the city to direct money – typically loose change – that would be given to panhandlers into community programs that provide meals, job training and education services, substance abuse help, and affordable housing.
The meters are a well-designed nudge. They are hard to miss. They are painted red (the rest of Denver’s meters are gray). They are installed strategically on street corners where panhandling and pedestrian traffic is high. And they prompt people for change at the exact moment most people are fiddling with quarters to pay for their parking. There are now at least 86 “donation” meters featuring exhortations to help end homelessness, business and individual sponsors’ stickers, and references to Denver’s Road Home, the public organization tasked to lead the city’s 10-year policy plan. In the first month of operation, last May, the city raised almost $2,000 from 36 meters, which each hold up to $60 in change. The goal is to raise at least $100,000 per year. Denver’s officials said that people gave about $4 million a year to panhandlers.
Denver is not the only city that uses a parking meter nudge. Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Montreal and Baltimore have put in parking meters similar to Denver’s. Chattanooga, Tennessee, has installed meters to raise money for city artists. There is also this meter in Ohio that takes donations for parks. We haven’t seen any yet in Chicago, but we’re keeping out eyes peeled.