We’ve all been there before.
You’re pulling up to a stoplight, you’re walking to your morning coffee, you’re heading down to the subway. Suddenly you lock eyes with a bedraggled looking man holding a cardboard sign that says “Anything Helps."
Recommended: Pizza Shop Takes On Poverty One Slice At A Time
You try to avoid eye contact, look busy on your phone, or flee outright, but none of it works. The man catches up to you and makes his request.
You politely tell him that you don’t carry cash, or you give him the change from your macchiato and then watch as he moves back into the crowd. A mix of guilt, pity, and, let’s be honest here people, annoyance tinge your otherwise peaceful stroll.
This is a pattern that anyone who has spent time in a major city will be familiar with. However, one US city recently launched an ingenious new initiative that is aiming to drive a steak into this depressing cycle once and for all.
According to a report in the Albuquerque News Seeker, citizens of the New Mexico city can now call the local 311 line and report panhandlers and beggars they encounter.
The locations of the unfortunate soul will be noted by the service. On Tuesdays and Thursdays a van will pull up and offer the beggar the option of a spending the day working on city projects (such as litter removal) that will earn him or her $9 an hour.
The program was launched as a joint initiative between the city itself and the local St. Martin’s Hospitality Center.
“We might come across some folks and this is how they get started getting off the corner and away from panhandling,” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry. “They can get a little bit of foundation and get connected to some of the services through our local nonprofits and they can start getting treatment for substance abuse if that’s the issue, or mental health if that’s the issue. We hope to see some uplifting stories come out of this.”
Initiatives like these are what it’s going to take to combat poverty in the United States and around the world.
Governments are very good at establishing programs that, by their very existence, are providing a tacit endorsement for poverty and homelessness.
A homeless shelter is a needed service and helps the disenfranchised survive the night. But, by its nature it exists as an enabler of homeless lifestyles. It is a form of medication that may abate the suffering, but fails to treat the symptoms.
A program like this one does just the opposite.
By offering homeless men and women a day’s employment rather than a free meal the city of Albuquerque is confronting the legitimacy of that lifestyle while also providing relief and provision for those who need it.
These are the types of solutions that will bring about lasting change because these are the types of solutions that are confrontational rather than complicit towards the problem of poverty.
In the words of the German radical Dietrich Bonheoffer, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."