Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Panhandlers have become a common sight along interstate frontage roads and at intersections around the city because they can count on compassionate motorists to give them money, Mayor Richard Berry said Wednesday as he unveiled an initiative intended to curb the practice.
“There’s a Better Way” involves trying to steer panhandlers to services and collaborating with United Way of Central New Mexico, which manages the DONATEabq.org website, where people can donate to groups that provide services to the homeless and poor, including meals, shelters and programs for mental health and substance abuse.
In conjunction with the website, signs are being posted at intersections around the city telling panhandlers that if they need help for food or shelter, they should call the city’s 311 information hotline.
The hotline operators can direct the panhandlers to any of the 80-plus services available in the city to help them, including 12 shelters, eight meal sites and more than 20 programs for substance abuse and mental health problems.
Panhandlers were not excited to learn of the new initiative.
“For a lot of people, it’s the only way to get money,” said Connor Reid, 38, who had staked out a piece of real estate along the northbound Interstate 25 frontage road at Oak Street near Downtown.
Reid held a sign that read: “On the street, but on my feet, down on luck, but up on hope.”
Friendly and articulate, Reid reasoned, “We’re not robbing anybody or doing anything illegal, and while we might be a slight irritation to some until they pass us by, it’s entirely up to people if they give or not.”
And many do. Reid said that depending on the day, the location and the time, he has received up to $30 an hour from passing motorists. On a good day, he said, he has pocketed $100.
“It’s good to have a little cash in your pockets,” he said. The impact of the new initiative likely will be “minimal” because people still will feel compelled to give panhandlers money.
“You can’t beat the human heart,” he said.
Although panhandling in Albuquerque is not prohibited by city ordinance, Berry noted, “If you hand $5 out your window to a panhandler, the panhandler can go to a fast-food restaurant and buy a hamburger and fries.”
But “if you hand that same $5 to the United Way of Central New Mexico, and they give it to Roadrunner Food Bank, they can feed 20 people in our community.”
“We spent almost $18 million in the budget that I just sent to the City Council to provide these great services,” Berry said.
Because people in the community “want to do more, and we want them to have an opportunity to do that,” the signs also direct well-meaning motorists to help the panhandlers by going to DONATEabq.org.
“We’re telling people we love your compassion, we love your heart and sincerity, but use this website and do this in a better way,” Berry said.
Not far from Reid’s place of business, Brandon Blue, 25, was seated on the ground along the southbound I-25 frontage road at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. He held a simple sign: “Homeless please help.”
Blue jumped up when a woman in a white sports car rolled down her window and handed him $5. A little while later, another motorist handed him a plate of baked goods.
“Look, some homeless people won’t use the services offered by the city because you can better take care of yourself without those services if you have a little money,” he said.
On a good day panhandling, he can pocket $20 to $30, “which is enough to get food and booze at the end of day, if I’m going to be honest about it,” he said.
Blue, who said he is an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar illness, said the new city initiative will “most definitely impact the amount of money I get.”
That may not be a problem, though, because he was planning to “move on” and leave Albuquerque by the end of the week.