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Denver Mayor Hickenlooper Introduces Donation Meters to Help Homeless

April 23, 2007

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper unveiled on March 5 donation meters to raise money for the city’s homeless population. In an effort to fight homelessness, 36 old parking meters have been refurbished and redesigned to easily allow people to give spare change to the homeless. The parking meter program is modeled after former Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s “Make a Change” program. The idea is to encourage Denver residents to donate money to organizations trying to alleviate homelessness rather than to panhandlers. It is estimated that nearly $4 million are given to panhandlers in Denver each year.

“The Donation Meters provide a creative way for everyone, even if they only have a nickel, to help,” Hickenlooper said. “People in general are well intentioned but far too often become enablers by contributing to their habits. This project allows people to contribute to what will help the homeless – meals, job training, substance abuse counseling, and housing.”

Up to 5,200 children and teenagers were homeless the night of Aug. 28, 2006, according to figures released March 5 of a summer survey of homelessness in Colorado. More than 400 agencies, churches, nonprofit groups and volunteers in the state’s 64 counties helped compile the figures, which found a minimum of 11,890 people and an estimated total of 16,203 homeless people in the state, according to the Colorado Division of Housing.

According to Hickenlooper, “The predominant face of homelessness may surprise you. Forty'six percent of Denver’s homeless are employed, but their wages can’t keep up with the cost of living. Forty-three percent of the people on Denver’s streets are women with children. This issue involves people who are one paycheck away from losing a roof over their heads. And school children who have no home to go to after school.”

The meter project has already raised $38,000, with businesses and individuals around the Denver metro area sponsoring all 36 meters for $1,000 each, and with 16,411 coins collected in the past month totaling approximately $2,000. Another $23,000 has been raised through donations to canisters at Denver-area King Soopers grocery stores.

Each parking meter can hold about $60 in change. Public-utility workers will collect the cash during their regular bi-monthly rounds.

All of the money benefits homeless programs through Denver’s Road Home initiative, Hickenlooper’s ten-year plan to end homelessness. The Road Home is based on a model that balances the provision of housing, treatment services, and job training with the expectations of responsibility and self-reliance from those who receive the services. This plan is not about hand-outs, coddling, or expanding the welfare system, but rather creating opportunity and helping people regain control of their lives.

Shortly after taking office in 2003, Hickenlooper convened a commission to develop and recommend a comprehensive plan to address the root causes of homelessness in Denver’s metro region. Over the course of 18 months, a plan was developed based on detailed research and community-wide collaboration. Denver’s Road Home is now transitioning from development to implementation to results.

“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,” Hickenlooper said. “We are fortunate to live in a city where public officials are willing to work on a project that will substantially increase public awareness and resources for the homeless in Denver.”

Denver’s Road Home program is a partnership between the city and county of Denver and the Mile High United Way. Funding raised through the donation meters will be accepted by the Mile High United Way and invested in long-term solutions to end homelessness and help individuals and families become more productive members of the Denver community.

According to Hickenlooper, “Within the first year and one month of the Denver’s Road Home initiative, the homelessness rate has dropped 23 percent in Denver.”

He explains that the Denver’s Road Home project is just one of many initiatives from across the country that are working to end homelessness. “Look at Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom – each city has its own unique homelessness campaign that is working. With careful implementation and strategic planning the homelessness rate is reducing dramatically across the country.”

“As a mayor we may feel that our efforts are only changing the outcomes in our own city, however, with the combined efforts of mayors from across the country we are changing the world,” he explained. “Together we can beat homelessness.”

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors has become such a valuable tool for mayors to share best practices. When we can pull ideas from cities like San Francisco and Chicago, and fine tune them to the particular needs of our citie. We have created sharp tools based on first-hand experience that will work,” concluded Hickenlooper.