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Mayor Comes Up with Simple Way to Combat Homelessness, Panhandling in His City

Handouts don't work. By now, we have decades of data to show they don't. The War on Poverty has created generational poverty on a level that wouldn't likely exist without it. The family unit has been destroyed in impoverished communities, as policies tend to favor women with absentee co-parents. We know that handing even more money overe doesn't work.

So how did the Republican mayor of Albuquerque deal with the lowest of the low in his city? Simple. He found a way to give them their dignity back.

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.

In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not crazy that taxpayer money is going toward this kind of thing, but there's a big difference between this and most government programs supposedly designed to combat poverty. There's a beneficial exchange taking place. The city of Albuquerque gets litter picked up and some landscaping while those who are doing the work are given a wage.

In the process, it gives these people their dignity back. They can look at themselves and think, "I'm working. I'm contributing." Make no mistake, that can make a huge difference to someone.

They're then able to find permanent jobs, which let them move on with their lives. It takes them off the streets, and all it does is give them an opportunity. After all, no one is making them work. No one is making them do anything. It's simply opening a door for anyone who wants to step through.

Frankly, this is the kind of thing that needs to be taking place in cities throughout the nation. If taxpayer dollars are going to supposedly help the poor, why not do it in a way that can actually make a difference?