A practical way to help the homeless find work and safety | Richard J. Berry
100 Comments


So, raise your hand
if you’ve seen somebody in your city standing on a corner,
holding a sign like this. I think we all have. If you’re being honest, at least one time,
have you wondered if they mean it? If we offered them a job,
would they really take it? And what would that job mean
to them in their lives? Well, this is a story
about what happened in my city when we decided to find out, when we decided to think differently
about panhandling, and lift people up
through the dignity of work. We call it, “There’s a Better Way.” We call it There’s a Better Way because I believe there’s a better way
to get the money you need than panhandling on the corner. I believe there’s a better way
to help your brothers and sisters in need than handing a few dollars
out the car window. We know there’s dignity in work. We also know that people are much more
likely to invest in themselves if they believe that their community
is willing to invest in them first. And because we’re all wired
to be kind and compassionate, it always feels good to hand
a couple of dollars to someone that is in need. But if you talk to panhandlers,
many of them will tell you that your few dollars don’t necessarily
go towards feeding the body, they go towards feeding an addiction. There’s a better way. My name is Richard Berry, and I have one of the best
jobs in the world. I get to be the mayor
of a great American city, Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was at lunch on July 17, 2015,
in my great American city, and on my way back to city hall, I saw this gentleman standing on a corner. As you can see, he’s holding a sign, and his sign says he wants a job. But if you look closer at the picture, you’ll see he’s standing
underneath a blue sign, and that sign says, if you need help,
if you need food or shelter or you’d like to donate, please call 311,
our community service number. So why is this guy standing
underneath my sign with his sign? Well, we wondered
if anybody would call that 311 sign, and as it turns out, they did — 11,000 times people called. I put those up in about 30 intersections. And we did connect them
with food and shelter and services. But yet he’s still standing under my sign with a sign that says he wants a job. It’s simple: he wants a job. So I decided to do
something rare in government. I decided to make the solution simpler
rather than more complicated. I went back to my office,
I gathered my staff around and I said, “We’re going
to take this man at his word, and others like him. The man says he wants a job,
we’re going to give him a job, and we’re going to make our city
an even better place in the meantime.” You see, Albuquerque is a beautiful place. We’re a mile high, the Sandia Mountains on the east, the Rio Grande runs through
the center of the city; we’re the home of the Albuquerque
International Balloon Fiesta. On a day like today, you could literally ski this morning
and golf this afternoon. But there’s always something to do — always weeds to pull, litter to pick up. If you’re going to have an initiative
like this in your city, you have to ask yourself two questions. First one is: Is there anything
left to do in your city? And if the answer is no, would you please give me
your mayor’s phone number, because I need some advice. (Laughter) But the second question
you have to ask is this: Are your solutions to panhandling working? If you’re like Albuquerque, and you’re taking the punitive
approach like we used to, handing out tickets to panhandlers
or those who give them money, I’m going to suggest
that your solutions aren’t working, and I know you’re not getting
to the root of your problem in your city. So if you have something to do and you need people
that need something to do, there’s a better way. And the good news is,
it’s not that complicated. This a 2006 Dodge van. It was in my motor pool
not doing anything. We put some new tires on it,
wrapped it with a logo. This van now goes out to street corners
where our panhandlers are — we go to them. We stop the van, we get out, we ask them if they
would like a day’s work rather than panhandling for the day. And if you wondered
if they really mean it — it takes us about an hour
to fill this van up in the morning, because almost everybody we ask
takes a job for the day. But you need more than just a van. You need a super-fantastic
human being to drive that van. And my super-fantastic human being,
his name is Will. This is him in the yellow vest. Will works at our local nonprofit partner. He works with the homeless every day. The panhandlers trust him, he believes in them, he hustles. I like to say, “Where
there’s a Will, there’s a way.” So if you’re going to do
the Better Way campaign in your city, you need to find yourself a Will, because he’s really one of the keys
to making this successful in the city of Albuquerque. You also need a great nonprofit partner. Ours is St. Martin’s Hospitality Center. They’ve been in our community
for over 30 years. They provide counseling, food, shelter, and if they don’t provide it, they know somebody in our city that does. But they do something much more
for me as the mayor. They provide agility. You see, it takes me two weeks, maybe two months sometimes, to onboard an employee
with the city of Albuquerque. So you could imagine — my old Dodge van, my super-fantastic human being, Will, a great local nonprofit partner — they drive to the corner,
there’s a panhandler, they say, “Would you like
to work for the day?” The panhandler says, “Yes,” and Will says, “Great! I’ll be back
in six weeks to pick you up.” (Laughter) It wouldn’t work. It’s really important that we have
that agility in our program. And they do the paperwork, they do the insurance, they do all of the other forms
that I can’t do quickly. We pay our panhandlers
nine dollars an hour. We feed them once at the jobsite. At the end of the day, our old Dodge van takes them
right back to St. Martin’s, and they get connected
with counseling services. So far, with the pilot program
and a couple days a week, and a fantastic human being
and a Dodge van, we’ve cleaned up 400 city blocks
in the city of Albuquerque. We’ve picked up over 117,000 pounds
of trash, weeds and litter. I don’t know if you’ve ever
weighed a tumbleweed, but they don’t weigh much, so you can imagine the volume
of material that we’ve picked up. My city has 6,000 employees, and none better
than my solid waste department. We send our trucks out
at the end of the day, they help the panhandlers
put into the truck the material they’ve picked up
during the day, and we take it to the landfill. I’m lucky that I have city employees that are willing to work side by side
with our panhandlers. They’re lifting up our city
while lifting up their lives. And like anything else —
listen, it takes resources. But the good news is it doesn’t take much. We started with an old van, a super-fantastic human being, a great local nonprofit and $50,000. But we also had to have community trust. And fortunately, we had built
that up in years prior to Better Way. We have a program called
“Albuquerque Heading Home,” a Housing First model where we house
the chronically homeless, and when I told my community
we wanted to do that differently, I said there’s a smart way
to do the right thing. We have now housed 650 chronically
homeless, medically vulnerable — frankly, most likely to die
on the streets in our city. We commissioned our university,
they studied it. We could tell the taxpayers,
we can save you 31.6 percent over the cost of leaving someone
to struggle for survival on the streets. We’ve now saved over five million dollars
while housing 650 people. So we had that community trust, but we had to have a little bit more
of an honest conversation also as a community, because we had to get people to understand that when they hand
those five dollars out the window, they might actually be minimizing
their opportunity to help the person in need,
and here’s why: that five dollars might go
to buying some fast food today — a lot of times it goes to buying
drugs and alcohol. That same five dollars, if you gave it to one of our shelters, could feed seven people today. And if you gave it to one of our local
food banks or food pantries, we could actually feed
20 people with that money. People ask,”Well, Albuquerque
is 600,000 people — million, metro — this wouldn’t work in our city,
we’re too big, we’re too small.” I disagree; if you have
one panhandler on one city block, you can do this. If you live in a city
of eight-and-half million people, you can do this. It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s not the work that you do,
it’s the dignity of the work. You could do anything. So I think any city could do this. And people say to me, “Mayor, that’s just a little too simple. It can’t work that way.” But I tell you what, friends: when you go to a street corner and you engage with a panhandler
with dignity and respect, maybe for the first time in years,
maybe in their life, and you tell them that you believe in them and that this is their city
as much as it’s your city, and that you actually need their help
to make our place better, and you understand that this
isn’t the answer to all their problems, but at least it’s a start, an amazing thing happens. When they get out on the jobsite
and they start working together, you start seeing amazing things happen. They see teamwork; they see
the fact that they can make a difference. And at the end of the day, when they get back to St. Martin’s
in that old Dodge van, they’re much more likely to sign up
for whatever services they need — substance abuse, mental health
counseling, you name it. So far with our pilot program, we’ve offered
about 1,700 days of day work. We’ve connected 216 people
to permanent employment opportunities. Twenty people actually qualified
for our Housing First model, Heading Home, and they’ve been housed. And over 150 people have been connected to mental health substance abuse services through There’s a Better Way. This is me just two weeks ago, at St. Martin’s, doing our point-in-time survey that we do every two years. I’m interviewing a gentleman
who’s homeless, like we do, getting his information,
figuring out where he’s from, how he got there, what we can do to help him. And you notice he’s holding the same sign
that the guy was holding in 2015, same sign I walked out with here today. So you have to ask yourself:
Is it really making a difference? Absolutely it’s making a difference. Albuquerque is now
one of the national leaders in combating some of the most stubborn
and persistent social issues that we have. Combined with Albuquerque Heading Home, the Better Way program, Albuquerque has reduced unsheltered
homelessness in our city by 80 percent last year. Since I took over as mayor, we’ve been able to reduce the chronic
homeless population in our city by 40 percent. And by HUD’s definition, we’ve gotten to functional zero, which means we’ve literally ended
veteran homelessness in the city of Albuquerque, by being intentional. (Applause) So I’m happy to report
that other cities are hearing about this, other mayors are calling us — Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Dallas — and are now starting to implement programs where they bring the dignity
of work to the equation. And I can’t wait to learn from them. I can’t wait to see
what their experiment looks like, what their pilot project looks like, so we can start taking
a collective approach nationally through the dignity of work. And I want to commend them — the mayors, their communities,
their nonprofits — for the work that they’re doing. So who’s next? Are you and your city ready to step up? Are you ready to think differently
about these persistent social issues? Are you ready to lift people up
in your community through the dignity of work, and make your city
profoundly better in many ways? Well, if you are, my friends,
I promise you there is a better way. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “A practical way to help the homeless find work and safety | Richard J. Berry

  1. I live in what you could safely call the third world, i have a bahcelors degree and im halfway trough my master's. and while in the us a program like this gives you 9 dollars per hour of work, someone in my position gets an offfer for about a third of that, go figure

  2. What this man is promoting is: "let's pretend capitalism works instead pretending socialism works". It's still bullshit. When all homeless will get jobs and shelter they will no longer be poor and homeless. Most of the mess and cleaning will be done, so the need for their services will be lowered. To keep them occupied, government will have to create artificial jobs with taxpayers money – this happened in my country, poor and uneducated do recycling which is not profitable but subsidized with taxpayers money so it keeps them off the streets and out of sight.

  3. Building public housing, introducing strict rent caps, outlawing evictions, investing heavily in public health, funding community services and ending worker exploitation are much better ways to fight homelessness. Delusional, nerd-liberal toffs.

    Socialism provides solutions, not just for the homeless and poor but for all that work for a wage!

  4. if you're from Albuquerque….,you would see how racist it is. While they are helping certain homeless people, their police is shooting Native Americans and Hispanics for assault with a deadly burrito and that isn't a joke, it really happened. They have shot and killed the homeless and left them in the outskirts. Big cities in Arizona and New Mexico have passed laws that made it illegal to feed a homeless person. The city can't make a profit if you're not donating to their functions. Yes we have a lot of bad people and drugs…but making it illegal to help someone yourself is just plain wrong. This Mayor's program only helps certain races of people. He does a great job of making it sound like they care, but they don't. We have Google and you can search for all this on the internet.

  5. this is what i've been talking about! this is why i hate america and americans. why hasn't this happened in all cities years ago?? it's because no one cares. and the christians insist that they have superior morals than everyone else. they need to stop being so selfrighteous and start living their talk.

  6. High tech, low tech, no tech, what is tech; what do you really need when homelessness shows you the clothes on your back and maybe your wallet are all that connects us to the world around us… other things of sentiment and use could be shared or not held onto at all… have and give a heart; the pricelessness fills the deepest and emptiest wallets and touches the heart more than money and time alone ever have done… nearly 5 years homeless and this is my truth.

  7. You know what could make this even better? If private corporations also employed the homeless directly, ,having in sight how that would bring a larger consumer base, work force and , in general, better buisness. But noooooooo, big buisnesses can't afford to lose a smidge of their money for some time and eventually make up for it hundreds-fold.

  8. Satanists keep me unemployed but I can live off my social security. They show up at my job and tell my bosses that I am a person of interest and they flash fake badges. But I still manage to give out dollars and harmonicas to those on street corners.

  9. I have pounded away for years that all a person needs to overcome homelessness is a job like they used to have and the income to pay rent. Regardless of whatever their behavior or habit, paying rent will solve the problem of homelessness. This I based on years of social work counseling and social science observation. Just look at my Twitter timeline, especially to the End Homelessness account. To no avail. Now I'm listening to a Mayor that solves the problem by getting guys a job. I listened to the entire talk and his accomplishments and wonder why the entire country couldn't come to this conclusion a long time ao. Including your organization TED.

  10. This is beautiful. Use wisdom and compassion to solve problem instead of just pointing fingers or pretend it's not there

  11. A positive approach is inspiring, I cannot argue against that, although, every city, and every state has unique dynamics. I helped the local homeless and poor as I looked for small handyman jobs. I can go door-to-door and I have no personal addictions to deal with.

    Feeling good is what hypocrites just love to feel. Giving a few dollars or some food makes the citizens feel so good about their apathy, rejection, and double standards. These are the traits in myself that I overcame by actually helping people at risk. My city, and my community have never inquired about my experience or knowledge on this subject, so I am more aware of the true intentions regarding the problem.

    We need jobs, America.

  12. people like to make it a more complicated issue than it is. this is an excellent solution with a simple premise: if someone is homeless and jobless, find them cheap housing and a job.

  13. I knew this guy up my street, now hes old. But way back when he was a full addict on all drugs by using a needle, he was sitting chillin, drinking a beer one day, and one guy just gave him a look, knew what he was looking at, but still ask my mate if he wanted a job. He agreed, and held this plumbers job for 15 years while still partying. Trust me, us crazy people are the best labor works out.

  14. Here in London this idea would not work. Government is handing out money to people who did not work for generations! They cannot be bothered to do anything to contribute to society.

  15. There are also many people on the street who DON'T have these wild chronic self-esteem/psychological problems he keeps referring to. Since the financial crisis there has been a tidal wave of former lower-middle class people who have had to hit the street since the crash.

  16. You could have built a decent shelter with that $50,000. Leased out city space and purchased Tents (Seattle has a movement/program like this, but in fact it's spearheaded by a group of local churches). Remember, these are HOMELESS people, they're not foodless. And that's what a few scraps of extra cash brings. It does not rid them of homelessness.

  17. This jackass, Repub. schill, really didn't help Albuquerque – as a very long time resident of Albq., NM, I watched as this asshat proceeded to wreck the city with stupid, over budget and disruptive projects like A.R.T. He is gone this election cycle due to term limits but I don't believe he would have gotten reelected anyway. We hope the new other than Repube. Mayor will fix what he wrecked and get the city back on track to being a better, less crime infested and environmentally greener urban area.

  18. I was actually thinking of this exact thing to get started in our community, our soup kitchen here has a lot of people that need work. I was thinking that soup kitchen could also get associated with the city and maybe start a program to clean up our streets.

  19. Can anyone in the comment section help me with where I should start to try and bring something like this to my city? I live in a small town (cut bank montana) and I have homeless natives asking me for change all the time and I feel like there's a lot of ways to implement this here (like shoveling snow or cleaning up trash)

  20. That's great well I need a Job to get my teeth fixed and I'd work a year for that. And I'd come to any City.. email me please

  21. This is so important, people should start to realize how is more important to give the poor jobs not money

  22. The point is that he was only able to keep the job because he had a safe and stable place to sleep…there's a reason that shelter is at the base level of Maslow's pyramid.

  23. Solid Ted Talk, not just a list of problems but solutions and how to implement them. An Idea Truly worth spreading.

  24. Mayor, come to San Jose, Ca. Our politicians are as stupid as they are honest. Total corrupt sellouts to the developers our here.

  25. I think that's a shameful exploitation of the disadvantaged. The Price We Pay for offshore tax havens could fun a retroactive negative income tax. The Price of Fairness shows how the social contract has been destroyed (both good films). Milton Friedman once let it ship that nobody deserves anything. We could all use more of what we deserve, imo.

  26. The thing is, there's no down side to helping them do this. Giving people jobs helps build a strong economy, and a strong economy means you don't have to worry about a market crash/depression like event. It's a win win win for the jobless, government and working class.

  27. I'll admit I'm totally surprised that this guy is a Republican! 🙂 You would think someone using this approach would be a democrat for sure!

  28. Very inspiring talk. I wish we had more public servants like Richard Berry, who practice 'public service' in letter and spirit. Way to go !

  29. I´ve already sent the link of this TED speech to my city hall representative on facebook… let´s see what is going to be the excuse of not trying to implement this way of helping panhandlers.

  30. Panhandlers here refuse the work part when asked. They have changed their signs. No more "work for food" or "need a job"
    Cops offer them services and shelter. Main problem is most are drug addicts and they usually have to commit to cleaning up, so they choose to remain on the street and the idiots that give them money support their drug habit. When they can't get enough to buy drugs they steal.

  31. Thank you so much for what you said it made me cry I have a you tube channel and I would love for any and all of you to feel free to watch some videos! If you really want to help please go to ABC 15 news website and say something on my behalf!
    https://youtu.be/tzAMBMgyW88

  32. The city of Albuquerque has so much homeless.Only 10 people can go to work a day.Berry you spend 100 million dollars on a worthless bus line on central.Yes this program is not working .to hire 10 homeless people a day.Albuquerque is one of the poorest places to live.Colorado has made so much money.They help homeless people.Over here you can get kids taken away. for smoking pot .Im one of them parents that cyfd taken my kids away just for pot.Yes we went to countless programs for pot.Yes were getting are kids back after 1 year and 9 months.thousands of dollars on fixing are pot habit.bottom line Albuquerque is not a good place to live.By the way if you give homeless money or food you will get a ticket.

  33. this is temporary, not a fix, $9 and hour will not get you off the streets, housing will still be an issue for the homeless, there is a better way, we need to keep searching

  34. I worked in retail for a couple of years and saw plenty of homeless people. Not one actually wanted a job, they were content where they were in life.

  35. If I would have the resources; I would purchase a 100 acres land, and build a central building on it with beds, showers, a large workshop, lecture room, a large recreation room and a a big kitchen. Then, I would divide the land to be worked by every homeless who want to cultivate their own food and make some money and deposit it in a bank account of their own to become self sufficient. I would promote the project among colleges and university to search for volunteers who want to help and go for an internship willing to teach self-help. The program would go along side with a program on how to start things from scratch and responds to the needs of the community to make a living.

    The group would have to produce their own food, their own electricity and manage their own water.

  36. $9 an hour huh? Why can’t you get them a union job for $40 an hour? Maybe give a criminal a REAL chance. They’re on the street because $9 before taxes doesn’t help. Oh and of course you’ll advertise that people don’t give panhandlers the money , give it to you instead right ? Lol of course

  37. Richard berry are you interested in hiring and helping a homeless man relocate and get work? In college online, need shelter and work.

  38. I would love to do this I’ve been researching for several years and how to actually help the homeless and came up with not too many good ideas but now I’m gonna have to look into this further thank you so much for posting this

  39. I wish all Meyer's of this beautiful country be like this awesome meyer from Albuquerque, GOD blessyou you SR,l give you 100%,you are real patriotic person, thankyou ??????????????????????????????????????????

  40. I've been saying LA needs to do this asap. As dirty as the area is and as many homeless as there are here. You could clean up every damn street and help people gets some money to get off the streets

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