In September 2008, the city of Atlanta and a downtown Atlanta organization rolled out 18 donation meters. They were part of a plan to tackle aggressive panhandling. 4 years later, the meters are getting a face lift partly because they haven’t really worked.
To avoid people giving money to those begging on the street, the 18 meters were set up in Atlanta’s Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead neighborhoods.
“The intent is to put these giving meters out there with a message encouraging pedestrians to put their extra change in there to help these homeless services providers,” said Central Atlanta Progress Vice President of Marketing Wilma Sothern.
Sothern says a 3rd party contractor helped get the meters.
“Many of them were broken and in disrepair,” said Sothern. “They just needed to be freshened up from a painting and branding standpoint.”
And some people would just walk by them saying the blue and yellow meters blended in with buildings.
“They generally didn’t capture peoples’ imagination,” said Park Atlanta operations director Alain Rass.
Rass says the company took over donation meter collections in 2010. Rass says Park Atlanta has now changed the colors to red, black and white.
“We hope that these will capture peoples’ eyes and read the signs and read the details on them and then graciously donate any extra change that they may have in their pockets,” said Rass.
But, color is just part of the problem. Sothern says an issue has been determining whether the meters have been effective in helping curb aggressive panhandling.
“That, I would say, has been the biggest challenge in this program,” said Sothern.
Southern says she hears aggressive panhandling is down. But she admits that’s hearsay. She also says there’s been no financial goal. Each meter can hold up to $38 in change. She says the most recent information shows each meter on average was getting about $3 a day. No one has been able to say how much money the program has raised since it started.
“To this point, we can’t even track how much money comes from each individual meter because of the way the money is collected,” said Sothern.
Every 3 months when Park Atlanta collects change from donation meters, Rass says the company has to first get a security key from the city of Atlanta. The money goes in a coin canister provided by the city. The canister has a padlock, which Rass says can only be opened by the city.
“It is a blind process for us,” said Rass. We never touch the money. We just simply go out there and collect it and then drive it back to the city of Atlanta.”
It’s unclear how much money has been collected from the donation meters since it started in late 2008.
Sothern admits the city’s public and private leaders will have to define effectiveness before the donation meter program is expanded.