Albuquerque is celebrating the one year anniversary of the city’s successful “There’s a Better Way” program, which hires panhandlers to work in maintenance jobs and also aims to connect them with services.
Mayor Richard Berry was driving around Albuquerque last year when he saw a man on a street corner holding a sign that read: “Want a Job. Anything Helps.” Driving through the city and talking to panhandlers, he discovered that the city’s poorest residents do not want to be on the streets begging for money, but they didn’t know where else to go. Therefore the mayor has founded the Better Way Program.
There’s a Better Way program hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and provides a lunch. At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed.
In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment.
“You can just see the spiral they’ve been on to end up on the corner. Sometimes it takes a little catalyst in their lives to stop the downward spiral, to let them catch their breath, and it’s remarkable,” Berry said in an interview. ”They’ve had the dignity of work for a day; someone believed in them today.”
There is a persisting stigma that people begging for money are either drug addicts or too lazy to work and are looking for an easy handout. But that’s not necessarily the reality. Panhandling is not especially lucrative and it’s demoralizing, but for some people it can seem as if it’s the only option. When panhandlers have been approached in Albuquerque with the offer of work, most have been eager for the opportunity to earn money, Berry said.
The program hasn’t weeded out all panhandling in the city, and supporters say that’s not really the point. It’s connecting people who would otherwise not seek help to needed services. And it’s showing them when they are at their lowest that they have real value, and that others are willing to show them kindness to help them have a better life.
Source & Photo: Washington Post