Nearly 8,000 individuals in the District are homeless, including a number of senior citizens and U.S. war veterans. (Courtesy of hatdc.org)
Nearly 8,000 individuals in the District are homeless, including a number of senior citizens and U.S. war veterans. (Courtesy of hatdc.org)

We have often featured articles addressing the District’s large number of homeless men, women and youth — a group more often blamed for their unfortunate circumstances rather than being offered a real opportunity to overcome their challenging lot.

Even the best laid plans have done little, at least in any meaningful and sustained way.

That’s why we’re encouraged by an initiative started by the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico last year that’s part of their larger plan to reduce homelessness and panhandling.

The city’s campaign, “There’s a Better Way,” has put some teeth and significant dollars into efforts to help the homeless — a priority of their mayor, Richard Berry, who argues that housing people and helping them find work, saves money that would often be spent on emergency rooms and jails.

They even provide vans in which panhandlers and those eager to work are given free transportation to various sites where they pick up day jobs paying $9 an hour, higher than the state’s $7.50 minimum wage. Some of jobs are beautification projects like pulling weeds or picking up litter.

At the end of the day, the workers are taken to a nonprofit hospitality center where they can take advantage of housing, employment and mental health services — a full-service place that serves an estimated 5,000 people a year in a city that reports having 1,200 homeless — an estimate that officials say is probably far less that the actual number of those without a permanent home or in danger of becoming homeless.

D.C. could learn from Albuquerque’s program and commitment to a community often unable to fend for itself.

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