ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A once nationally praised program that paid the homeless to clean up Albuquerque has come under fire. An investigation reveals the contractor running the Better Way Program wasn’t playing by the rules. Work vans would pick up the homeless and take them to parks and medians to pick up trash for cash. However, there were questions about where that money was going.
Mayor Richard Berry started the “There’s a Better Way” initiative back in 2015 partnering with St. Martin’s and Hopeworks where the city paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get panhandlers off the streets and give them jobs. The city’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation this past summer after a would-be worker said a driver never showed up at the designated pick up location.
Other concerns were that the pick-ups weren’t structured, claiming drivers were picking and choosing who they would pick up. There was also concern that if drivers weren’t picking up the required 10 people each day, the drivers could easily be pocketing the $50 meant to pay workers.
The Officer of the Inspector General says it couldn’t find any cases of that happening, but says Hopeworks was breaking the rules.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays drivers were supposed to pick up new clients at two fixed locations. After a three month study, they determined that wasn’t happening and drivers were picking up repeat clients.
According to the Inspector General’s report, the program wasn’t reaching its full potential. The program ended in September after St. Martins decided it no longer wanted to run the service.
The Inspector General says if the city decides to continue the program, the contractor should provide more checks and balances to lower the risk of fraud. The city has put out a request for a contractor to run the better way program. They have not received any proposals yet. They are due this Friday.