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Los Angeles is installing meters that collect donations for the homeless

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From now on, when you walk down the streets of Los Angeles, you might run into the happiest parking meter you've ever seen.

Bright orange with a smiley face, this meter isn't actually for your car. It's to help the homeless, and the City of Los Angeles has installed six of them throughout its downtown area.

A lot of time people—they're not so sure, whether they want to give money to panhandler because they have a lot of questions.
Bill Huang, Director of Housing and Career Services

The meters are in partnership with Real Change Movement, an initiative raising funds for the homeless around the country, and Flintridge, an organization that's trying to break the cycle of crime, community violence and incarceration.

"I think it's a good idea in retrospect, but we don't know," says Samuel Guzman, who's been homeless for 10 years. He says he's seen similar meters in Pasadena, but he didn't know what organization the funds went to.

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The Real Change Movement meters take credit and cash.

In L.A., they'll go to C3, a city program committed to helping homeless individuals find housing. When L.A. councilmembers first proposed the meters, they said the meters would also "curb aggressive panhandling," too. But some homeless people say they haven't stopped asking for money on the streets.

"I actually panhandle right here at the corner of this alley and another alley, so a lot of us sit by the sign and don't even pay attention to it," said Samuel Guzman.

The meters come after L.A. County's homeless population increased by more than 23 percent last year. L.A. isn't the first to install the meters. A few miles north, Pasadena has had them for the past three years.

"A lot of time people—maybe they're not so sure, whether they want to give money to panhandler because they have a lot of questions," said Bill Huang, Director of Housing and Career Services for the City of Pasadena. "'Are they really homeless? What are they gonna use the money for?"

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L.A. has installed six meters throughout downtown.

Officials say the meters allow people to give with confidence.

"If people can kind of transfer that instinct to help that person into donating to services, I think we have a lot better chance to impact the problem," said Jennifer Ward, a Pasadena resident.

Pasadena says the meters have been part of the city's approach to homelessness and helped them reduce homelessness by 20 percent between 204 and 2016.

But some residents still prefer to know exactly where their money is going.

"If you give to a homeless person, you know that you're giving it to someone, and if they need it for a certain thing—like maybe they want to drink alcohol—it just depends on them," said Douglas Joya-Jovel, an L.A. resident.

Pasadena's nine meters raised $8,000 in 2016 for a population of about 530 homeless people. L.A. just installed six for a homeless population of about 34,000, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

"Most of the homeless individuals have no furniture, so they need a bed, they need a refrigerator and sheets—the things that really make an apartment usable," said Bill Huang. "And so the Real Change Movement money has been able to be used for those things."

Related stories on Circa:
Meet the high school student designing clothes for the homeless
These mobile showers are giving homeless people a clean start
Seattle's largest homeless encampment is growing as a lack of shelter space prevents cleanup

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