Innovation That Matters

Nonprofit van picks up homeless individuals for paid work


The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico pays the homeless USD 9 per hour to beautify their community.

Springwise has covered a number of social innovations designed to help tackle homelessness. A youth centre offers homeless individuals in London tickets on circular night buses so they can ride safely through the night. In the US, panhandling — or begging on the street for money — has been banned by 24 percent of cities in the country. In response to this, the city of Albuquerque has come up with an innovative solution.

In partnership with a local nonprofit, St Martin’s Hospitality Centre, the current mayor Richard Berry has launched the There’s a Better Way program, which employs the homeless to work on beautifying the city’s public spaces.


A van is dispatched to drive around the city and pick up homeless people who are interested in a day’s work cleaning the community. Those who accept are paid USD 9 per hour (above the minimum wage) and are offered lunch on top. At the end of the shift, they also have access to shelter for the night if they need it. The van currently employs about 10 people per day but could take on more. When program coordinators found that the van filled up quickly and people were desperate to be taken for work, they increased the frequency of the initiative from two to four days a week.

Next month will be the first anniversary of the program. To date, it has found jobs for 932 individuals. Importantly, the service also helps match the chronic homeless with services that can help them out of their situation. Kellie Tillerson, director of Employment Services at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center said a lot of the people who get picked up by the van aren’t aware of the services available to them. One man who recently got out of prison was able to enroll in the day-labor program, access behavioral health services and start applying for ID.

According to a report in the Washington Post, dozens of cities have reached out to Berry about starting a similar programme themselves. Are there more innovations that can help join up those in need with the services available to them?



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