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Tucson Program To Hire Homeless, Pay Them Is Modeled After Albuquerque Effort

Published: Monday, December 5, 2016 - 4:48pm
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 8:06am
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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
A homeless man asking for money in downtown Phoenix.

Tucson this week is set to launch a new program, which aims to give homeless residents day work and pay them for it. It’s modeled after a similar effort in Albuquerque.

City Councilman Richard Fimbres is one of those behind this program in Tucson, which includes a number of non-profits there. Fimbres explains what the ultimate goal of doing this is. The city is set to launch its program Tuesday.

Albuquerque started its plan, called “There’s a Better Way,” last September, picking up homeless residents and giving them jobs two days a week.

It’s now expanded to four days, and the city’s contribution has also grown, from $50,000 at the outset to $181,000 now. The program was the idea of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who says it makes the city look better, but more importantly, changes residents’ lives.

"So as much as Better Way in Albuquerque is a program about making our city more attractive, it’s really a program about connecting people to the services that they need to improve their circumstances. And it’s just wonderful to see how the dignity of a days’ work puts them in a position to do that," Berry said.

Berry says since the program started last year, workers have removed more than 100,000 pounds of trash from the city, and 20 residents have gotten housing. The city is the sole financial supporter of There’s a Better Way, and even though Berry only has one more year as mayor, he’s optimistic his successor will keep it going.

"At some point in time, we always, as elected officials, we have to take limited resources and put them to the highest and best use. It’ll be up to the next administration to decide that. I believe we’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that that’s the case, as we’ll be hopeful."

Berry says the program could work in any size city — in fact, he says he recently got a call from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who plans to adapt it for his city; Berry says Denver is poised to do the same.

To get more of a sense of the effect the program has had in Albuquerque, I’m joined by Kellie Tillerson, director of Employment Services at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center there, which runs the program for the city. Tillerson explains what kind of an impact has been seen since this started.

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