Charity Meters

I ordinarily don’t care much for parking meters, since, unless you are a meter maid, no good can come of the things. But then I learned that a well-meaning sorority had adopted one of Las Vegas’ special “Donation Station” meters. Since proceeds from the meter go toward programs for the city’s homeless, I opened my mind to the meter. Briefly.

The idea is a simple one that’s been in use in Vegas for more than a year and in some other cities for as many as five years: Redirect the loose change you might give to panhandlers to these city-owned meters, and the quarters will be applied to some kind of city homelessness prevention service.

But it turns out that homeless advocates in other towns have decried these parking meter programs as “utterly ridiculous.” They say the meters are based on the stereotypical notion that all homeless people will spend their money on drugs and alcohol, so they shouldn’t be trusted with cash of their own. They also point out that meter money has to run the bureaucratic gauntlet before it ever reaches the homeless—meaning that not all of it reaches the homeless. Sometimes the thirsty guy on the corner just needs a bottle of water, minus the middleman.

Let’s face it: In a city whose mayor once recommended shipping the homeless to an old prison in the desert, we’re not going to solve the problem with loose change and cute campaigns. There are 10,000 homeless people in the Valley, and the meters—however well-intentioned—shouldn’t mask the need to do more. If you really want to help, I say get involved with a shelter, write a check directly to HELP of Southern Nevada, or just treat someone on the street like a human. Keep your quarter.