Home ANS Reports Albuquerque Mayor Expands Panhandling Initiative While City Still Fails to Answer Questions

Albuquerque Mayor Expands Panhandling Initiative While City Still Fails to Answer Questions

by ANS Editor
By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (jeremyreynalds@gmail.com)  
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.   (ANS. AUG. 31) It’s been almost four months since blue signs sprouted like mushrooms all over Albuquerque encouraging people to call 311 instead of giving to panhandlers.
By so doing, those with a heart to help were told they could donate to local food banks and the homeless or hungry unaware of local services would be informed where they could find food or shelter. 
In an Aug. 31 news release, a spokesman for Mayor Richard Berry said that to date, the program has connected over 2,200 people with the city’s 311 center. 
Of that number, the city said  93 percent of those calling are asking to be connected to services, “many services they may not have known about previously.’
As a result of that success, the news release stated, you’ll now see “There’s a Better Way” van on Albuquerque streets. 
In partnership with St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, the van will circulate throughout the city and offer panhandlers a job for the day. It will transport individuals to a job site under the supervision of the City of Albuquerque Solid Waste Department, to do work such as landscape beautification.
At the end of the workday, the city continued, workers will receive their pay from St. Martin’s and be transported back to St. Martin’s “so they can get connected with an emergency shelter to house them overnight as needed or available.”
According to a local media report,  the city plans on spending $50,000 on the project through the end of the current fiscal year. The panhandlers will be paid in cash at the end of each workday at a rate of $9 per hour.
Okay, that sounds good, but there are some real problems with the initiative as a whole. Firstly, those calling 311 for help. 
Of all those who called, I can’t help but wonder how many were referred to agencies that were either closed or not equipped to meet their needs. 
In addition, let’s not forget that the 311 service is only open from 6am to 9pm six days a week, and not available for calls relating to homelessness on Sunday. That lack of 24/7 service is not something mentioned on those blue signs. When asked by a reporter for KOAT what people should do after hours, the city reportedly said to call the non-emergency number for the police, 242-COPS.  
Yeah, let’s call our already overworked and troubled police department and bog the system down with more calls.  I had to call the non emergency issue for a personal issue a few weeks ago and was put (briefly) on hold. They’re busy!
Wouldn’t it have just been easier (and more honest) to put the hours of operation on the sign?  
Now, I have no problem admitting that giving a job for the day to panhandlers willing and able to work is a great idea. I do have a concern with the next part of the statement, that after finishing work and being transported back to base they’ll be “ …  connected with an emergency shelter to house them overnight as needed or available.”
Really? Downtown men’s shelters have few available beds and are typically full by early evening. Joy Junction has a small number of beds available for homeless men, but with high demand that evening availability has decreased recently.
Where are these panhandlers turned regular workers going to go? Is there hope of a bed for the night going to be as much in vain as those who call 311 at 3 a.m? That’s a question needing to be answered. 
Just a few more concerns. How long is this program going to last, and is there money in someone’s budget to fund it beyond the initial $50,000 investment? 
Even if it does work out as planned, the program seems mainly focused on helping those able to function at a regular job. 
Let’s not forget in the mayor’s rush to rid the city of panhandlers that a number of those so doing  have mental health issues, PTSD and other challenges. They panhandle for a few hours, and at times and on days when they feel emotionally equipped to face (at least to some extent) some of the daily rigors of living. 
Some individuals will always be dependent on the largesse of others, and we as a community have a moral and societal obligation to assist them. If people stop giving donations to them, how will they survive?
It’s a well known fact that  many homeless adults have physical and other types of disabilities.
According to one site,   problems with alcohol, drugs, and mental health among homeless people are well documented and often occur together. among adults using homeless services, 31 percent reported a combination of mental health and substance abuse problems (alcohol and/or drugs) within the past year. 
An additional 17 percent reported problems with drugs and/or alcohol problems, but no mental health problems. 
In addition, according to the same source, 12 percent reported only problems with alcohol, and 15 percent reported only mental health problems. Only one in four homeless adults did not report any mental health or substance abuse problems during the past year.
As politicians try to rid our city of panhandlers, let’s remember these interesting little nuggets of information. To do so may be discomforting, but for the sake of our city’s collective humanity it’s a important fact for us to remember than calling 311.
Photo: Jeremy Reynalds
Jeremy Reynalds useAbout the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. 

His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. 

Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at jeremyreynalds@gmail.com. 

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