ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry has gone global.
In February, Berry was invited to Washington D.C., to give a TED Talk on Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which provides paid daily work to panhandlers and gives them the opportunity to access social services and housing.
Berry’s 12-minute lecture was posted to the TED.com website last Thursday, and within a week has been viewed by more than 395,000 people.
TED, an acronym for technology, entertainment and design, is a nonprofit organization that provides a forum to leading thinkers and doers from a host of disciplines who want to share powerful and innovative ideas in short lectures of 18 minutes or less. Past lecturers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Sir Richard Branson, Garry Kasparov, Elon Musk, Serena Williams, Pope Francis, Ashley Judd, John Legend and Al Gore.
Berry was joined on the stage at TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue by 14 other leaders in the fields of philanthropy, academics, business, nonprofits, arts and politics. All were speaking on their visions to address our country’s, and the world’s, greatest challenges.
Berry said he was “humbled and honored” to learn that so many people had viewed his lecture, and to have had the opportunity to deliver a TED lecture and to learn from other speakers.
“I’ve been a fan of TED for years and have viewed the lectures to look for ideas, so I thought it was time to share this one simple but profound idea on the There’s a Better Way initiative,” he said.
The online attention his lecture is getting “doesn’t speak to any genius on my part,” Berry said. Rather, it speaks “to the fact that the world is a global community and that community is starting to look past easy solutions – because there are none.”
Albuquerque’s answer to panhandling shows that the city “has made a conscientious decision to not sweep problems under the rug,” he said. “We’re trying to address persistent social issues head-on. This is just part of a bigger solution.”
There’s a Better Way launched in 2015 as a way to address Albuquerque’s endemic problem of panhandling. The goal was to provide dignity through work, connect panhandlers with social services, move toward ending panhandling and help the community to understand the problem and why giving money directly to panhandlers is counterproductive.
Working with St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, a repurposed city van drives to known sites where panhandlers and homeless people congregate early in the morning. The van driver offers them work for $9 an hour plus lunch. Those interested are then driven to various sites to pick up litter and remove weeds. At the end of the day the workers are driven to St. Martin’s where they are paid and offered an opportunity to connect with various social services.
According to the Albuquerque city government website, since it’s implementation There’s a Better Way has provided day jobs to 3,080 people, connected 330 people with additional work; has cleaned 564 city blocks, removed 165,701 pounds of litter and weeds, arranged for 20 people to find housing, connected 189 people to social services for mental health or substance abuse and received about $62,000 in community donations.
In addition, more than 70 cities around the United States and a few in foreign countries have modeled their own programs after Albuquerque’s, or are planning to do so.