A new approach

A new approach
Tulsa’s A Better Way program takes a new approach at combatting the city’s homeless problem. (K. Barnett/Reporter)

“What we are hoping to do is to help people overcome the barriers that are preventing them finding the jobs they want.”— Employment Specialist Rob Harmon.

Tulsa program battles homelessness in a new way

Kevin Barnett/Reporter

TULSA, Oklahoma— A drive through any city in the country will reveal scores of people standing at intersections wielding signs asking for help in the form of food, cash or work.

It has become such a problem that cities across the country have begun cracking down on panhandling with the majority taking a punitive approach, which seemingly has done little to quell the rise in numbers.

There are, however, a growing number of municipalities, including Tulsa, which is exploring a new approach in their attempts to reduce the number of “spangers” on their streets.

Mirrored after Albuquerque’s ‘There’s A Better Way’ program, the city of Tulsa initiative offers cash for a day’s work while at the same time using the opportunity to link participants up with local community resources.

Now in the fourth month of operation, Tulsa’s ‘A Better Way’ program is beginning to yield some promising results.

“Participants, the employers we work with and the community have all been really supportive of the program and we are starting to see some successes,” Mental Health Association Oklahoma Service Navigator Lisa Reser said.

The program currently operates three days per week and can employ up to eight people per day with each participant receiving $65, which according to many participants is not an easy amount to reach panhandling.

Mondays and Fridays are random pickup days in which the program van targets “hot spot” areas around town known for homelessness and panhandlers.

On Wednesdays, there is a scheduled pickup at the MHAO drop-off center, Denver House at 252 W. 17th Place.

A typical work day with A Better Way consists primarily of beautification efforts around the city with the opportunity to meet with community resource representatives over lunch, which is provided.

The day jobs are not meant to be stable income sources for anyone, but rather a launch pad of lasting change.

“What we are hoping to do is to help people overcome the barriers that are preventing them from finding the jobs they want,” Employment Specialist Rob Harmon said.

Even though the program is still in its infancy, the effort marks a major shift in the approach taken to combat homelessness.


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