Iowa City donation meters bring in roughly $2,000 in two years

Change deposited at stations used to benefit local agencies serving needy

Ralph Johnson of Iowa City asks for donations a few feet from a donation station in downtown Iowa City in December 2010.
Ralph Johnson of Iowa City asks for donations a few feet from a donation station in downtown Iowa City in December 2010. The money collected from the donation stations, which were installed in June 2010, is equally distributed among six local nonprofit organizations. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa City has collected just over $2,000 in donations to panhandling meters since their installation in June 2010.

And though Adam Bentley, assistant to the city manager, said their installation has left some who peruse downtown disgruntled, he said the meter system has been successful.

"I think it has been useful," Bentley said. "It directs people's change and everything downtown toward sources that are helpful for people that are homeless or need services, and makes sure those monies get to those organizations and are used in ways that are productive to the homeless."

The meters were installed the same month an ordinance went into effect to reduce panhandling downtown by preventing people from asking for money within 10 feet of a building, 15 feet of a crosswalk, 20 feet of ATMs and 10 feet from mobile vendors.

According to data from the city manager's office, the meters collected a total of $2,177.95 between June 1, 2010 and July 1, 2012. That money goes directly to local agencies who serve the needy.

And even though panhandling has not been completely eliminated two years after the installation of the meters, Bentley said he feels the program, paired with the ordinance, has had a positive effect on the community.

"While I think it's alleviated some of the challenges that used to be there prior to the policy," Bentley said. "I think there's a lot more that goes into alleviating homelessness than a policy change. It's also things like donation meters and other tactics that kind of help."

The city has also discussed hiring artists to paint the meters as part of a public art project. Marcia Bollinger, the city's public art coordinator, said that though idea has not been tabled, the project would need funding and sponsors to pay artists before it could be completed.Meter programs have been successful in several other American cities, including Denver, Colo., which raises about $100,000 a year for charity, with help from business sponsors who donate $1,000 per year.

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