Tulsa is now offering the work program known as A Better Way to panhandlers and homeless people in the city.
A van will pick up people three days a week and take them to public beautification projects they’ll be paid for doing. Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Mike Brose said pay is not the only benefit to the work.
"We’re giving other people in our community a chance to restore their dignity, moving back into the fabric of the community, self-sustainability. It’s a big mental health deal," Brose said.
Workers will also be fed lunch. During their lunch break, they’ll be able to meet with representatives of service organizations offering referrals for housing, mental health and addiction treatment, and job placement.
"Panhandlers that are on the side of the road are not there because they’re lazy. They’re not there because panhandling is an easier way to make money," said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum. "They’re there because they need assistance in some way, but they don’t know that the assistance is available or where to get it, or it’s too hard to ask."
The Better Way program is modeled on one of the same name in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bynum said unless people there were intoxicated, more often than not they accepted the offer of work.
City Councilor Phil Lakin said he hopes participants find value in a day's work.
"And I hope that our city will value what they’re doing as well. I hope that we will look at them differently for what they are providing for our city in the beautification efforts that they will deliver," Lakin said.
The city budget includes $50,000 for the program this fiscal year. Mental Health Association Oklahoma, Tulsa Area United Way, the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, and the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy are also supporting A Better Way.