A homeless person in downtown Dallas.
A homeless person in downtown Dallas.
Matthew Rutledge

Dallas Is Copying This Albuquerque Plan That Pays Panhandlers to Work

On Monday, the Dallas City Council's Public Safety Committee got its first look at the latest and greatest plan for city staff to address one of Dallas' largest quality of life issues — panhandling on the city's streets. Allan Sims, Dallas' Neighborhoods Plus czar, proposed that the city use some of the $100,000 to pay panhandlers $10.37 an hour to do 4 to 6 hours manual labor around town.

The plan is based on a similar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico, called "There's a Better Way." There, a van cruises common panhandling sites around in Albuquerque four days a week, picking up anyone who wants to do jobs assigned by the city's solid waste department. The van has no fixed schedule and is not guaranteed to be anywhere on any particular day. The program pays workers $9 an hour, in cash, at the end of the day.

"They really earn that $9 an hour," says Vicky Palmer, the associate executive director of St. Martin's Hospitality Center, the organization which administers the program. "They have cleared more than 1,200 city blocks so far. They work at the landfill once a week. The city wants to double to program because the landfill said they want one crew out here five days a week."

The city provides the workers lunch. During that break, the city or St. Martin's connects them with services available to them. "That's the special part," Palmer says. "You've got somebody that may have been standing on the corner five days a week. Now they can be connected to a job development program that might get them into a permanent job."

During his presentation, Sims stressed the potential difficulty of getting panhandlers to take the odd jobs offered by the city, but Palmer says that the Albuquerque program has been successful in hooking workers up with jobs beyond their initial day labor.

So far, 434 people who've participated in the program have landed outside jobs out of the 1,365 that have jumped on the van, Palmer says.

"Usually, [the homeless population] is calling saying 'Where are you going to be? Where are you going to be? I want to jump on,'" Palmer says. "They love it. They come in at the end of the day dirty because they've been working in the dirt all day and they love getting their cash in hand."

The earliest the city of Dallas could institute a similar program would be the summer of 2017, Sims said, pending council approval.

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