• FOX23 Investigates: Could 'There's a Better Way' program help Tulsa's panhandlers?

    By: Clay Loney

    Updated:

    Quick Facts:

    • Tulsa is looking at other cities for ways to help the homeless population.
    • Mayor GT Bynum is looking to replicate the “There’s a Better Way” program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
    • It’s a program that offers panhandlers jobs to help clean up the city.
    • FOX23’s Clay Loney went to New Mexico to see how the program is working and what Tulsa could learn.
    • WATCH his full report on FOX23 News Tuesday at 5:45 p.m.

     

    It's just after 7 a.m. and Will Cole is on a mission.

    He pulls up and Gary climbs into the van, choosing work over panhandling that day.

    “If you're really good on the corner, how much money can you make in a day?” FOX23’s Clay Loney asked.

    “I don't know. $80… maybe about $80. Some people might get lucky and make $100, something like that,” he said.

    But, he's OK making a lot less helping clean up. And it’s not just him.
    Instead of panhandling, some Albuquerque men found, "There's a Better Way,” that's an innovative work-program that Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum wants to replicate in Tulsa.

    "I mean we're known as America's most generous city--- and so Tulsans want to help folks. But, the question you know I think is in a lot of people's head... is giving someone some money who's panhandling, the best thing for them?" Bynum asked.

    "Okay, you're holding a sign that says you want to work for the day, do you really mean it?” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.

    © 2018 Cox Media Group.

    The city is using the program to deal with its panhandling problem. It offers panhandlers $9 an hour to clean up the city.

    The program launched in the summer of 2015.

    "This works because we are actually reaching out to people who are panhandling and we're telling them we believe in them-- that this is their city as much as it is our city, and that we could use their help,” Berry said.

    In the '90s, Albuquerque took a punitive approach that ticketed panhandlers and the people who gave them money.

    Now, this new approach isn’t a silver bullet, there are still panhandlers in Albuquerque, but there’s also people like Manuel.

    © 2018 Cox Media Group.

    "I'm a felon and it's hard for me to find a job,” he said. It is making a difference to him.

    "Yes, it's actually working. Because before this I was always incarcerated, because I would steal to get my money. And so, this program came around and I stopped getting arrested,” he said.

    The program doesn’t just connect panhandlers with work, but it puts them in touch with the social services that help them. The ultimate goal is to help them lead productive lives.

    "And the sooner that we can be doing that--- helping folks get back to productive lives instead of being on the street, begging for money, the better it is for them---and the better it is for us as a city,” Bynum said.

    "We've had 200 people get connected with permanent employment opportunities. We've had over 150 people say yes to substance abuse and mental health counseling at the end of their shift,” Berry said.

    The city considers this a win-win and is now adding a second van to reach twice as many.

    Bynum and the Tulsa City Council will have the opportunity to speak with Alan Armijo, City of Albuquerque Constituent Services Director, regarding the “There’s a Better Way” program at the Tulsa City Council Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, May 10, 10 a.m. in Room 411 of City Hall.   

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