Donation meters could help homeless people, decrease panhandling

CINCINNATI -- People with cardboard signs pleading for money have become a common sight at a number of local intersections.

But many of those panhandlers are not actually homeless, according to Kevin Finn, the president of Strategies to End Homelessness. And most people who are homeless are not panhandlers, he said.

"Eight-five to 90 percent of homeless people are indoors and staying at a shelter, and maybe getting up and going to work every day," Finn said. "It's a relatively small percentage that are actually out on the street."

Now, Cincinnati may have a new option for those who are looking to help people who are homeless. It's similar to a parking meter, but the money is used to help fund the city's homeless resources.

"What we're trying to do is introduce a variety of strategies and tactics to provide as much of a buffer between panhandlers and the people who are trying to conduct business, or go to dinner, or enjoy a show," City Manager Harry Black said.

The city plans to provide five charitable donation meters. By using a credit card, cash or coins, people using the meters will be able to donate to specific charities that directly benefit people who are homeless and be sure the money is being put to good use.

"If you give someone $2 or $3, it could be buying heroin and they could end up overdosing on that, so you don't want to give money to do that," Councilmember Amy Murray said. "But helping these agencies is a great way to be supportive."

Similar systems have been established in cities including Albuquerque, New Mexico and Portland, Maine.

Supporters of the plan say it won't stop panhandling or homelessness, but the direct charitable donations are a start.

"I think whatever we can do to give people a comfort level that they currently don't enjoy when they're out and about is a good thing to do," Councilmember Wendell Young said.

The city council will consider the plan Wednesday. If it's approved, the meters could be rolled out in the next weeks. 

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