Albuquerque city officials hope a recently launched program will provide the city’s panhandlers with a different kind of change.
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On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, a driver from St. Martin’s Hospitality Center — an organization that provides services for the homeless — roams the city’s streets and offers panhandlers employment for the day.
“We might come across some folks and this is how they get started getting off the corner and away from panhandling,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry said during a news conference. “We hope to see some uplifting stories come out of this.”
The program kicked off on Sept. 3, and people who choose to participate earn $9 an hour for weeding, picking up litter and participating in other city beautification projects. After five to six hours of work, participants are transported to St. Martin’s, paid in cash and offered food, shelter and services for substance abuse and mental health issues.
“The money is significant enough that people can work their way off the streets,” Rev. Rusty Smith, executive director of St. Martin’s, told The Albuquerque Journal. “St. Martin’s also has an employment program that will be used to help these individuals find longer-term jobs. Our goal is to transfer them into full-time employment.”
The program is the second phase of Albuquerque’s “There’s a Better Way” campaign that began in May with the placement of signs that encourage people to call 311 if they need assistance in finding food or shelter. More than 2,000 people have called the number since the 33 signs were posted.
The signs also ask residents to donate money through donateabq.org instead of putting it in the hands of panhandlers.
Albuquerque's panhandler-employment program was made possible through a $50,000 city allocation, enough for the program to continue through the end of the current fiscal year.
The money is distributed by St. Martin’s, which also runs a coffee shop that was awarded the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness’ Non-profit Innovation Award in 2013. Employees of the coffee shop earn wages and receive job training to help them out of poverty.
“Sometimes the best thing for certain individuals is just to have an opportunity to go out and make an honest wage for the day,” Berry said.
Learn more about the "There's a Better Way" campaign in the video below.