3 Keys to Establishing Dignity of Work Programs for the Homeless

Albuquerque's replicable dignity of work program curtails panhandling and helps end the root causes of chronic homelessness.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mayor Richard Berry talked about the city’s “There’s a Better Way” dignity of work campaign for today's 2017 TEDX Pennsylvania Avenue.

He came to present “What happened when we decided to think differently about pan handling and lift people up through the dignity of work.”

Instead of writing tickets for panhandling, Albuquerque’s work campaign reaches out to panhandlers that hold up cardboard signs saying they are looking for work. They are paid $9 per hour in cash at the end of the day and provided transportation to work sites, and then to food, counseling and sheltering services after work.

Thus far the program has provided more than 1,680 days of work, employment services to more than 200 participants and mental health and counseling services to more than 150. In addition, 20 dignity of work program participants qualified for the city’s permanent housing programs.

Berry said that Albuquerque through this and other efforts reduced the number of its unsheltered homelessness by 80 percent in 2016 and also achieved functional zero veteran homelessness.

An amazing thing happens when you say to them that this is their city as much it is your city, and you need their help to make our place better,” said Berry.

No city is too large or too small to launch a homeless dignity of work campaign, according to Berry. There is always work that cities need done.

"If you have one pandhandler on one city block you can do this,” he said. Other cities are calling to find out how they can replicate “There’s a Better Way."

The program has helped Albuquerque clean-up litter and tumbleweeds on nearly 400 blocks.

Berry’s Key Takeaways for Establishing Dignity of Work Campaigns:

  1. It’s vital to start with an individual that understands homeless people that want to work -- and that they will trust -- and a vehicle, like an underused passenger van with a shrink wrapped program logo.
  2. Making it work is made possible by partnering with an organization that can not only provide counseling, food and shelter, or engages other organizations that do, but also the administrative capabilities required for work programs.
  3. Building community buy-in for a public work program is essential so that residents understand how the city improves costs related to homelessness.

The program has received close to $60,000 in community donations, said Berry.

Learn more about the dignity of work program on Albuquerque's website.

Watch William Cole and the "There's a Better Way" van:

There's a Better Way - Albuquerque, NM from City of Albuquerque on Vimeo.

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