Ideas Worth Stealing: Day jobs for people who are panhandling

     A section of one of the program's information posters. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Mayor's office)

    A section of one of the program's information posters. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Mayor's office)

    A new program in Albuquerque offers panhandlers a job for the day, but then it also connects them to various services.

    Ideas Worth Stealing: Every week, Keystone Crossroads will look to cities across the world for lessons in urbanism and municipal governance that could benefit Pennsylvania. No city does it all right, and we hope these examples from metropolises near and far inspire and encourage cities here to think outside the box. 

    The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico has a new initiative placing panhandlers into day jobs. A driver picks up people who might otherwise spend the day panhandling and takes them to work sites. The jobs can be things like picking up litter and other beautification projects for the city’s public works department, and pays $9 per hour for an 8-hour day.

    At the end of the day the van drops off the day’s workers at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, one of the non-profits working with the city as part of this pilot program. Once there, staff help connect the individuals with housing, employment, training programs, and mental health services. 

    “What’s really important,” said Rhiannon Schroeder, mayoral spokeswoman for the city of Albuquerque, “is that St. Martin’s takes steps to find them permanent employment.”

    The program, called There’s A Better Way, started in September and is part of a larger city effort to reduce homelessness.

    Like many cities, Albuquerque tried to confront homelessness and panhandling with regulations. This approach, the brainchild of Mayor Richard Berry, is instead looking for ways to help by directing people to services and more permanent solutions. 

    Infographic

    One of the program’s information posters. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Mayor’s office)

    The city has contributed $50,000 to pay for the van’s driver and vehicle maintenance. In addition, the city has put up signs directing people to call 311. Those in need are connected to services when they call, and motorists are directed to a website where they can make donations that go towards shelters, food, wages, or a community fund. Ninety percent of 311 calls have been for people looking for help.

    The van goes out on Tuesdays and Thursday and it’s been full each time with ten passengers. Shroeder said so far repeats have been few, which means each working day different people are getting connected to assistance. As of the end of September, donations have added up to $2,345.  

    “We understand that [the day jobs] aren’t a sustainable solution for any one individual,” said Schroeder. But it gets people in the door. “This allows them to establish a connection and build a rapport.” 

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