In 2015, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, launched an innovative program aimed at helping the area's homeless. Instead of ticketing panhandlers, city officials offered them jobs. In just a few years, that program — There's A Better Way — has gained national attention and been credited with connecting homeless people in that city to services and long-term employment. And it's gaining traction in several other cities as well.
Albuquerque's program is remarkably simple. City officials ride around in a van to connect with the homeless, but instead of ticketing them for panhandling or asking them to move out of public spaces, the officials offer jobs along the lines of picking up trash, cleaning up graffiti, or planting trees in city parks. At the end of the day, the workers are paid an hourly rate and dropped off near St. Martin's Hospitality Center, a local nonprofit that helps people access housing, employment and mental health services.
The program was the brainchild of Albuquerque's mayor at the time, Richard Berry. After spending time with the homeless population in his community, Berry realized that asking a homeless person to find a job is easier said than done. In order to get a job, a worker typically needs identification, an address, somewhere to take a shower, and a change of clothes — all things that most people living on the streets don't have. That's when Berry decided to create a program that brought the jobs to the people who needed them.
Since its inception, Berry's program has provided more than 1,000 jobs to the homeless. Many of those workers have gone on to secure permanent employment as a direct result of the work experience and pay they received from their temporary work with the city. With benefits like that, it's no wonder other cities — including Austin, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Seattle and Spokane, Washington; Honolulu; Denver; and Portland, Maine — have launched similar initiatives.
Take a look at Denver's program in action:
Of course, homelessness is a complicated issue. There are myriad reasons why a person might wind up living on the streets. And many of these issues can't be solved by a few hours of work. But many cities are finding that by providing the opportunity to work, instead of handing out tickets, they can offer a pathway that helps people make the leap from living on the streets to getting back on their feet.