April 22, 2011; Source: Deseret News | Drop your spare change into bright red “donation meters” to help the homeless.

This is the message that Salt Lake City officials will emphasize as they continue to address panhandling throughout the city. Police and community leaders announced the program, Homeless Outreach Service Team, or HOST, with the unveiling of the first installed meter in its downtown. Police Chief Chris Burbank says the program “utilizes a collaborative approach to handle the root causes of panhandling.”

The Newswire reported on a similar effort in Orlando last September.

HOST is the community’s latest attempt to control panhandling by the homeless. Last year, panhandlers brought a lawsuit against the city, defending their right to hold signs on busy roads and sidewalks seeking donations. The city settled the lawsuit and later tabled a proposed ordinance targeted to regulate when, where, and how panhandlers can solicit donations.

Zion National Bank is the first corporate sponsor to join the city and its partner, the Downtown Alliance. The bank has pledged up to $25,000 in matching funds. The city plans to install 13 more meters throughout the downtown in the coming months.

Police and social service agencies will help find shelter and support for homeless people who continue to ask for money. City officials recognize that they are addressing a social work issue, not a law enforcement issue, noted Bill Tibbits, anti-Hunger Project Director for Crossroads Urban Center.

Comments on the Deseret News website following the story indicate more work will be needed to convince people to drop their quarters into the meters. Several readers wondered if the donations would really reach the homeless. Others questioned the self-promotion tactics of the sponsors.

What do you think? Are the bright red donation meters a solution to help the homeless? Would they work in your community?—Nancy Knoche