Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The Controversial Way That an L.A. Suburb Is Helping the Homeless

September 24, 2014
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The Controversial Way That an L.A. Suburb Is Helping the Homeless
In Pasadena helping the homeless could be as simple as filling a parking meter. Getty Images
Sure, it's innovative, but will it really provide the right kind of assistance?

Some of us might feel uneasy about handing money to a homeless person, but one Los Angeles suburb is trying out a new, slightly contentious approach.

The city of Pasadena will install 14 bright orange, smiley-faced parking meters that work just like regular parking meters with one exception: One hundred percent of the money collected in them will go to nonprofits that serve the homeless, the Los Angeles Times reports. The meters are a part of the Real Change Movement, that aims to raise awareness about homelessness as well as generate funds.

Officials say this program helps assure donors that their money will go directly to an organization fighting homelessness. “This is a clear alternative where people contributing know that all the money will go to effective services,” Pasadena’s housing director, Bill Huang, tells the newspaper.

MORE: If You Want to Hire Someone to Help the Homeless, Why Not the Formerly Homeless?

Others, however, have been skeptical, claiming that the meters are just a way to expel panhandlers. Local activist Paul Boden says, “If we would get serious about addressing the actual economic and social issues that we find so offputting, we wouldn’t need meters.”

As local homeless woman Holly Johnson says to the LA Times, “It’s a nice idea, but we don’t get that money,” adding that homeless organizations don’t necessarily fulfill the needs that are specific to her, such as a hotel room or medical attention.

MORE: Ever Wondered What To Say To A Homeless Person? Here Are 5 Things to Say And 5 Things Not to Say

According to the Times report, the meter campaign cost $350,000, which was paid for by various grants and corporate sponsorships. No city money was used.

Other cities that have meter programs have varied success — Denver raised about $30,000 a year, but Orlando’s meters raised only $2,000 in three years. So far, the two meters in Pasadena have reportedly raised about $270 in three weeks.

Only time will tell if these parking meters can make real change.

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