City of Phoenix to use parking meters to gather donations for homeless

Phoenix will join Tucson and Prescott as the third major Arizona city to adopt the program

Downtown Phoenix residents will be seeing some new, colorful meters along populated walkways this summer after the Phoenix City Council approved a new way to give to the homeless. 

On March 20, the council approved the “Parking Meter Giving Pilot Program,” which will allow the city to place repurposed parking meters along populated downtown Phoenix areas.  

The initial idea came from councilwoman Debra Stark, who saw similar decorative meters in Laguna Beach, California, while visiting with a relative.

“They formed an organization that takes the change and then gives change to other organizations that do help the homeless,” she said. “I thought it was a great concept, and I brought it back here.”

The program serves not only as a way for the public to donate to help the homeless, but it also curtails panhandling, Stark said. 

For now, the meters will appear along four Phoenix walkways:

  • Third Avenue and Washington Street
  • First Avenue and Jefferson Street
  • Central Avenue and Adams Street
  • Third Street and Van Buren Street

However, if the program performs well, Stark said that the council will consider placing the meters along other streets. The meters will accept change, cash and card, she said.

The donations will go to PHX C.A.R.E.S., an initiative started in 2017 that aims to bring all of Phoenix’s departments together to tackle homelessness, said Tamyra Spendley, the deputy director of human services over homelessness for the city of Phoenix. The program serves as a way to provide outreach to homeless individuals and helps transition them into permanent housing.

With the help of the meters, the program will use the money gathered to reunite homeless individuals with their families, pay for pet boarding, motel stays, hygiene kits and other services, she said.

“Say they have a pet and that's restricting them from going to the shelter,” she said. “Well, we did find a couple of agencies who would take them, but there's a cost to that.”

On one night in January 2018, Maricopa County saw 6,298 homeless individuals, roughly 42% of whom were not in shelters, according to the 2018 Point-in-Time Homeless Count performed by the Maricopa Associations of Government. 

Phoenix joins two major Arizona cities, Tucson and Prescott, in adopting this donating method. Prescott’s “Change for the Better” program debuted in downtown Prescott with four parking meters in April 2018, and the number has since grown to seven.

“The whole focus was we want to be compassionate first of all, but then really enforce laws and promoting people or helping people to make good decisions on where they're giving their money,” said Tyler Goodman, assistant to the Prescott city manager.

In January, Prescott reported that $2,700 in donations had been raised through the meters and online donations. Goodman said that a portion of these funds have been given to local nonprofits in the city to help the homeless.

The program also assures donors that the money collected is going to the right causes, and Prescott is trying to discourage citizens from giving money directly to the homeless, Goodman said.

In Phoenix, the meter program will be up and running in June after Downtown Phoenix Inc., which is partnering with Phoenix regarding this program, finishes commissioning artists to decorate the meters. The city will cover the material and installation costs of the meters, which is an expected $910 for all four.

"This way, by giving to the meters or to give to the organizations, that will make sure the money is used in a proper manner to actually help them, whether it be getting them food or getting them toiletries ... really enabling our organizations that do go out on a day-to-day basis and work with the homeless," Stark said.

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