Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practical Solution to Panhandling

A while back I posted my explanation for why you shouldn't give money to panhandlers. Sadly the conversation about the post was moved to Facebook (don't get me started). I'll summarize by saying a stranger threatened to beat me up and friend came to my rescue and assured everyone I'm too easy to beat up. Nonetheless, I wanted to follow up on the topic and offer a practical solution. I've always been weary of problems when the solution is to act better or smarter or more rational. To really change actions you need to change situations. Here's what I mean:

That's a donation meeter in Denver, CO. Here's the explanation from the mayor:
The donation meter program is designed to increase awareness about Denver’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and it is also an effort to redirect the money given to panhandlers into initiatives that provide meals, job training, substance abuse counseling, housing, and other programs for those in need. This grassroots campaign is projected to raise roughly $100,000 per year giving the general public a constructive way to help Denver’s homeless. “The donation meter demonstrates yet another innovative way in which this community is responding to Denver’s Road Home and our commitment to ending homelessness”
As of September 2007 Denver has eighty-six meters downtown. Within the first month they raised $2,000.


  1. Love the plan. Here's an side note though. Each of the donation meters causes a negative externality. It's like those signs that say, "this house is protected by Viper Security." It doesn't necessarily reduce crime it just moves it to someone else's house.
    Now, the Denver plan is better than security systems since it actually does give food and other services that might reduce panhandling, but it is likely that the program won't get rid of all homelessness/panhandling and the meters are really going to just start pushing these people to the edges of the city.
    Any thoughts on how to efficiently correct for this?

  2. Great! I wonder how many months it will take to pay off the cost of 86 of those meters...

  3. Bryan,

    Well if they can put enough, it will start to diminish actual panhandling. There is only so rural a panhandler is willing to go.

    It also helps to educate the public on the problems involved in giving out money.


    Hmmm, good point.

  4. If there were a dislike button I would have used it on this post. I don't feel like struggling to find the words, so I'll take the lazy way out and say that it's simply a terrible idea.

  5. Oh come on! Kev brings up a good point about the upfront costs. What else are we missing?

  6. Anonymous8:35 PM

    The plan sounds good and looks good. I'm from Chicago and would love to see this take action here. It's coming out of our pockets one way or another.

  7. Thanks HW. And this way the money goes to something positive.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.