Albuquerque, New Mexico, officials have been receiving calls from their counterparts around the country who want to curtail panhandling in their communities, according to The New York Times.
The Times reports that the calls have come from officials in 37 cities and states, where states of emergency over homelessness crises were recently declared, to learn about the city's program that gives panhandlers the option of earning money rather than begging for it.
“It’s about the dignity of work, which is kind of a hard thing to put a metric on, or a matrix,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry told the Times. “If we can get your confidence up a little, get a few dollars in your pocket, get you stabilized to the point where you want to reach out for services, whether the mental health services or substance abuse services — that’s the upward spiral that I’m looking for.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning since the program started in September, Will Cole drives a big van with the program's name, "There's a Better Way," written across it around the city. He patrols until he has 10 people ready to do manual labor and clean up a run-down part of the city, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
"I’m looking for people who are serious about doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Most of the time, when people are given the opportunity, they’d rather work than panhandle,” Cole told the Journal.
Several of the program's recipients agreed with Cole, saying they liked the work more than panhandling. "This really is a better way," Dutch Over told the Albuquerque Journal. "I panhandle every now and then, but I prefer to work."
To be paid, the workers are required to work a five- to six-hour shift cutting brush, raking leaves, picking up trash and other manual labor. Afterward they are dropped off at the St. Martin's Hospitality Center, a non-profit that assists the homeless and near homeless, where they are paid $9 an hour in cash ($1.50 more than New Mexico's minimum wage).
Once dropped off at the St. Martin's Hospitality Center, the workers can also connect with staff that provide a variety of social services to help with physical and mental health, substance abuse, housing and permanent employment, according to the Journal.
As Governing magazine has reported, other cities have taken steps to curtail panhandling. But some see Albuquerque's method of providing temporary jobs as a better way to build self-esteem than giving handouts. "It is demeaning to have to beg for money," says Eric Tars, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
Similar work programs for the homeless are popping up around the globe. This year, a coffee cart paying its homeless employees $15 an hour opened in San Jose, California, and a coffee truck employing the homeless opened recently in London.