Panhandlers on State St


The guys in front of BW’s. The guys in front of Peace Park. Bryon Eagon is talking about them in his second official blog post.

Who doesn’t feel at least a little guilty when you pass people who you know are in need of help but maybe don’t trust that your spare change will be used to actually help? Who hasn’t feared or assumed it may be used to exacerbate or propel some of the problems or issues of why that person is asking for money in the first place?

A few days before one of the meetings, a friend and I were talking and he threw out the idea of using alternative methods to dissuade panhandling but still provide a way to raise money, specifically mentioning a system used in Denver where old parking meters are turned into fund-raising collectors in an effort to raise money for services by dissuading direct panhandling through more trusted giving.

Well, the committee met last week and I was excited to hear that DMI and the Police Department have been looking into the possibility, with an added focus on using more mailbox-like structures instead of the parking meters, primarily because this would allow for cash/check donations and not limit it to coins.

It’s hard to say how effective this plan will be. The motives for charitable giving are very different. Pressure and seeking approval will hardly play a big role in dropping change anonymously into a box. However, there is an advantage. First off, it gives people the opportunity to give without being hassled, which discourages a lot of people from giving to charity. Second, rather than being pressured into giving large lump sums, people can give small amounts whenever they feel like it. A few cents here, a few dollars there. And if the system is marketed as fighting against community poverty, I think people could become enthusiastic about contributing. But there needs to be a goal articulated by the government, including the mayor. There needs to be a vision associated with the boxes – they can’t just be bigger versions of those vague contribution jars at coffee shops for abused animals. I don’t see wild amounts of money being raised but hey, if the revenue exceeds the cost of putting up these things, why not? Voluntary taxation. We should give it a try more often.

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5 Responses to “Panhandlers on State St”

  1. Critical Badger Says:

    By definition, charity is not “voluntary taxation” but not the point of my comment.

    There’s nothing wrong with a little incrementalism here and there. In a tough economy when social services are being cut, ideas like this are even better.

    I’m not sure if you’re making the argument that all plans like this must be part of a larger vision (obviously, we all want public policy to be consistent and thoughtful), but I can’t tell if you’re suggesting the incrementalism is on face a reason to oppose it, for the sake of it being incremental. If you get what I mean. I’m not even suggesting you oppose it. I guess I just don’t understand the last part of the post.

    Anyway, Denver tried this ( and while I’m not going to post all of the links, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting it helps. I think they raised like $40,000 in a year.

    So yeah, I very much agree (who doesn’t?) there should be a broad policy, but I doubt Eagon proposes this as some cure-all. Given his comparatively small impact in the city (1 Alder of 20, of hundreds of city staff) an incremental idea of this strength seems highly warranted.

    Yay for innovative ideas.

  2. The Sconz Says:

    CB, nice to see you make your debut on the Sconz.

    I probably should have broken that last part into paragraphs (As Eagon should have). My point is that I think the plan will be a waste of time unless there is a marketing plan that supplements the actual establishment of the boxes. People are offered opportunities to give to charities all the time – I think if it’s emphasized as a way to keep taxes down, develop a specific aspect of the community, etc. people could really get excited about it. That’s all I was saying. I think it could be a good plan.

    Also, how about a link if you get the chance?

  3. Critical Badger Says:

    I don’t understand what this means: “develop a specific aspect of the community” huh?

    I’m sure the powers at be would market such a plan just like every other city has. If it worked in the past, Madison should model whatever (Denver) made it successful elsewhere. The idea of DMI and Eagon not marketing this is like questioning whether the slots in the boxes will be big enough to accept money. Obviously it needs to be bigger than 1cm by 1cm, but it kind of goes without saying.

    Also I’m hella backed up on emails. You should get one soon. A Link too.

    • Critical Badger Says:

      oh you mean like, “develop” as in help poor/homeless/addicted people, just thought develop was an odd word there, but upon re-read I think I understand

      I also think people will be likely to participate because frankly, we all know that the money given to panhandlers is *not* always efficently used to help themselves in a positive way.

  4. alchemicalmedia Says:

    panhandlers? you can never have too many panhandlers around… they keep city streets safe at night

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