The trend lately has been to criminalize and arrest homeless people and essentially make them disappear. But Albuquerque, New Mexico, has taken a different track: offering them paid work.
It’s been almost a year since Mayor Richard Berry launched his experimental program, which involves picking up panhandlers who want to work and giving them odd jobs around the city. In that time, the program ― called “There’s a Better Way” ― has given out 932 jobs.
Those tasks led to clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks, The Washington Post reported. More than 100 participants have secured permanent employment, according to The Post.
On a given night in January last year, there were 183 unsheltered people in Albuquerque. That marked a jump from 144 in 2013.
After spending a considerable amount of time with panhandlers, Berry realized that sending homeless people out to find work is often a futile exercise. Workers typically need identification, an address and a decent place to shower before going on a job interview.
That’s when the mayor decided to bring the work to them and his jobs program came to be.
The City of Albuquerque Solid Waste Department partnered with nonprofit St. Martin’s Hospitality Center to identify homeless people in need of jobs and to also offer them services to help them further get back on their feet. Those include housing and behavioral health programs.
The city loaned St. Martin’s a van, and a paid driver initially circled the city twice a week seeking out panhandlers who were willing to work, according to the organization.
The waste department provides a location for workers to clean up or pull weeds and also doles out safety equipment, which includes goggles, vests and tools. They work five-and-a-half hours and earn $9 an hour in cash.
They’re also provided with lunch and water.
About a year in, Albuquerque is working on expanding the program, according to The Post. The city is increasing funding for the program, and it will now operate four days a week, instead of two.
Other cities have reached out looking to replicate it.
“I’m not the type of person that really likes to ask people for money. I’d rather earn it,” a male participant, who didn’t give his name, said in a video interview posted by Upworthy in January. “All I need is that one shot and I’m not going to mess it up.”