Republican Mayor Richard Berry was driving around Albuquerque last year when he 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.
Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and provides a lunch. At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed.