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Albuquerque Mayor's TED Talk on Homelessness Nets Half-Million Viewers

Albuquerque's plan to put panhandlers to work has gone global after the Mayor's TED Talk captured more than 600,000 viewers in less than a month. (City of Albuquerque)
Albuquerque's plan to put panhandlers to work has gone global after the Mayor's TED Talk captured more than 600,000 viewers in less than a month. (City of Albuquerque)
September 8, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Since mid-August, more than 600,000 viewers have watched Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on YouTube, promoting the city's initiative to fight homelessness.

Started in 2015, the city program known as "There's a Better Way" pays panhandlers $9 an hour for daily work, and provides them with access to social services and housing.

The program had already received national publicity, when the TED Talks producers invited the Mayor to Washington, D.C., to share his views with an even wider audience. Berry says the program started as an alternative to giving panhandlers cash.

"To this point, we've had about a thousand people who have taken up our offer to work in our community, to help make our community a better place," he says. "We've cleaned up hundreds and hundreds of city blocks; we've had several people participate multiple times in the day-work program. It's connecting people to long-term services they need to get off the corner."

Berry says the program is now being used as a model for helping homeless people in 70 U.S. cities.

The City of Albuquerque has signs posted at intersections frequented by panhandlers urging those in need of food or shelter to call the city's 311 service. It added a van to its motor pool that also advertises the campaign and transports workers to a shelter at the end of their shift. Berry says studies show it's cheaper for cities to provide support services for homeless individuals than leave them on the streets.

"It's much more than just about pulling weeds and picking up trash," he adds. "It's about human dignity, it's about how do we do something different than just kick the can down the road, buy somebody a bus ticket to the next town - all these standard municipal approaches to panhandling, which have generally been in the punitive range."

The city originally budgeted $50,000 for the homeless outreach program in 2015, an amount that has more than tripled that in 2017 to ensure its continued success.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM