Guest Editorial: Phoenix’s Giving Meters Could Be First Step in City, Mayor Gallego Addressing Surge in Homelessness and Its Root Causes

By Recker McDowell —

The city of Phoenix and Mayor Kate Gallego will unveil new ‘giving meters’ in downtown. The giving meters are refashioned parking meters that accept cash and credit card donations to help homeless services.

The move comes as cities around metro Phoenix and the Western U.S. see disconcerting increases in their homeless populations. The Phoenix effort is creative and anything to help raise awareness about homelessness and its root causes (mental health, addiction, poverty) is a step in the right direction.

The problem of homelessness is a serious one in Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities.

The giving meters may be more symbolic. But they do offer an opportunity of Mayor Gallego and Phoenix to start down a path of being a national model in dealing with homelessness. The city previously worked hard to reduce homelessness among veterans.

Gallego is early in her term. Finding creative, constructive and compassionate solutions to homelessness could be a signature issue for the city and Gallego.

It could become an issue where Gallego could work regionally, with businesses and across the political aisle.

The challenge is that growing homeless populations are stressing safety net and social service programs. And, some of existing approaches to wrestling with homelessness need to be refreshed. That includes a greater focus on mental health and expanding housing and employment programs that help our homeless brothers and sisters get and keep jobs.

Mental health was long been a societal stigma as well as underfunded and underserved. That often leaves police officers as frontline social workers.

The surge of homelessness in Los Angeles as swelled transient populations on Skid Row and left a city of great wealth with downtown streets filled with garbage and raised public health concerns. San Francisco and Seattle, home to technology billionaires and soaring real estate prices, are also home to growing homeless camps.

Phoenix has also seen increases in its homeless population. But our city and region have a chance to find creative, caring and effective ways to help our homeless brethren.

Of course, that will take resources and money. That is something for more progressive cities such as Phoenix and Tempe and the more conservative Arizona Legislature to consider along with other budget and tax priorities.

But there is also a chance to address homelessness the same way Arizona and Phoenix want to tout themselves as a growing hub for innovation and entrepreneurs.

Imagine, if we could engage innovators and entrepreneurs to address homelessness and its root causes. Maybe, the profit motive isn’t there. But other motivations, such as compassion, mercy and empathy, can also be great human drivers.

The giving meters are just a step. But maybe it will be just the first step for Mayor Gallego and the city addressing a larger societal problem.