Twice a week, a city van rolls through downtown Albuquerque, N.M., stopping at popular panhandling locations. The driver, Will Cole, asks panhandlers if they want a day job. Work pays $9 an hour, higher than the state's $7.50 minimum wage. The city's public works department can employ up to 10 people a day for beautification projects, such as pulling weeds and picking up litter. The van has been in circulation since September, and while "we get a couple no's here and there," said Cole, he's usually finds 10 people willing to trade panhandling for a day job.
The van initiative is part of a larger effort in Albuquerque to reduce homelessness and panhandling. In May, the city started posting blue and white signs at intersections that list a 311 phone number and a website. Panhandlers can call the number to connect with services. At the same time, motorists can visit the website, managed by the United Way of Central New Mexico, to donate to a local shelter, food bank or an employment fund to pay panhandlers' wages.
Branded "There's a Better Way," the point of the campaign is to encourage more effective charitable giving to help the homeless. Not only does the van provide some income to panhandlers, but it drops them off at the end of the day at St. Martin's Hospitality Center, a nonprofit that connects people with housing, employment and mental health services. To support the program, the city has directed $50,000 to St. Martin's, which pays Cole's salary and his driving-related expenses, plus additional money to cover the wages of the panhandlers. Keep reading >>