Homelessness: An Innovative Approach from Albuquerque, NM
Could this novel program implemented in Albuquerque help San Francisco address its own homelessness crisis?
Here at Reset SF, we are committed to discovering and promoting innovative solutions to San Francisco’s crisis regarding homelessness.
Sometimes the best way to find new solutions is to study what other cities are doing to tackle the problem in their own community.
To that end, we wanted to highlight a novel approach that one New Mexico mayor is taking to address homelessness in his hometown of Albuquerque.
Inspiration from Albuquerque
In the city of Albuquerque, pandhandlers used to be ticketed.
As a city press release from May 2015 stated: “Panhandling is dangerous and usually means that an individual needs more help than pocket change. There are numerous injuries and deaths every year from people entering active roadways and traffic.”
But that approach changed last year, after Republican Mayor Richard Berry had a particularly impactful interaction with one of the pandhandlers in his city.
“Berry saw a man on a street corner holding a sign that read: ‘Want a Job. Anything Helps.’
“Throughout his administration, as part of a push to connect the homeless population to services, Berry had taken to driving through the city to talk to panhandlers about their lives. His city’s poorest residents told him they didn’t want to be on the streets begging for money, but they didn’t know where else to go.
“Seeing that sign gave Berry an idea. Instead of asking them, many of whom feel dispirited, to go out looking for work, the city could bring the work to them.”
“There’s a Better Way”
The solution came in the form of a program aptly titled “There’s a Better Way.”
As reported by Uporthy, the program was initially “started by Berry’s administration to connect homeless people with employment, substance abuse, mental health, and housing services, and it recently expanded to include a program to connect homeless residents with jobs for the day.”
The program involves a partnership between the city and a local non-profit organization devoted to helping the homeless population, which drives a van throughout the city in order to pick up pandhandlers who are interested in a job.
Through “There’s a Better Way,” participants are offered jobs that pay $9/hour — which is higher than the local minimum wage — for five-and-a-half hour shifts.
Lunch is provided, as well as overnight shelter, as needed.
Albuquerque will celebrate the one-year anniversary of “There’s a Better Way” in September.
During the course of the program’s first 11 months, Berry’s initiative has awarded more than 930 jobs, resulting in nearly 70,000 pounds of litter and weeds being removed from nearly 200 city blocks.
More significantly, “There’s a Better Way” has connected over 100 people with permanent employment.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Berry told The Washington Post that “dozens of cities around the country have reached out” to him, wanting to get advice on creating a similar program in their own communities.
“It’s a testament, he said, to the work mayors do regardless of political party.”
Berry admitted the program hasn’t ended 100 percent of pandhandling in his city. But, he explained that its true impact lies in the difference it’s making in the lives of Albuquerque residents.
“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.”