Baltimore parking meter - flickr user ktylerconk
Through a so-called Change for Change program, Springfield, Oregon has gathered two-dozen meters and isn't officially charging anything for parking. On an honor system, motorists pay for their parking and make a contribution.
It's not a new strategy, but in the recession it's an attractive (and low-pressure) way to earn money for social-services organizations that have been hit hard by tightening purse strings and less funding, public or private.
The program is similar to one that was used in Denver, where 86 meters make about $100,000 per year for programs that help the homeless.
According to the Associated Press, over the first 18 months Denver used the method it saw a 92-percent reduction in panhandling in the area of the project.
In Baltimore, the parking meters have a needle that goes from 'depair' to 'hope' as change was put in the slot.
The change gets divvied out to social organizations that will put the money to use on safe food, lodging, and rehabilitation, while it helps reduce instances of panhandling.
Although we'd love to see this turn into a national trend, decisions to outsource parking to for-profit companies has infuriated motorists in some cities. Chicago has, amidst much controversy, leased out its parking meters to a private company for 75 years—which, it says, is helping to fund a job-training effort—while Atlanta has outsourced parking enforcement—ticket-writing, even—to a private company.