Mayor Keller to replace Berry-era ‘call 311’ homeless help signs

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Mayor Tim Keller’s administration says it will put a new spin on a high-profile project started by former Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. 

A series of more than 30 large blue signs asking people to donate to the city’s homeless problem by calling 311 will be replaced, according to the current mayor. 

Keller addressed the situation during his first official State of the City address Saturday. 

“And all of those little blue signs that you see all over that say, ‘Call 311 when you see a homeless person?’ Don’t anymore,” said Keller. 

The mayor followed his comment Saturday, saying the signs “aren’t really helping.” 

The blue signs first hit the streets in May 2015. The city hung up around 15 of the signs at high-traffic intersections that also see a lot of panhandling. 

“There’s a better way to keep people safe, there’s a better way to help your friends and your neighbors who need a helping hand in the city of Albuquerque,” said then-Mayor Richard Berry during the May 2015 news conference about the signs. 

At the time, Berry said the goal was to connect more homeless people to local service agencies while encouraging drivers to keep their cash in the car and donate it to those same local service agencies. 

“They’re going to leverage your dollars with other members of your community to have a collective impact that is much, much greater than just handing a dollar or five dollars out your window,” said Berry. 

Three and half years later, city officials under the Keller administration don’t feel the signs are having a collective impact. 

“Calling 311 and donating is just not working, people are still on the side of the street looking for help,” said Johnny Chandler, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Municipal Development. 

Chandler says Mayor Keller’s administration doesn’t deny a homeless problem in Albuquerque, but rather is looking for ways to reassess how to deal with it. 

“We’re going to figure out the best way to help people the best, and housing vouchers is certainly the way we feel is going to be beneficial,” said Chandler. 

The city says it will soon replace the Berry-era blue signs with new ones that encourage people to donate to the homeless “housing voucher” programs the Keller administration has been touting. 

The programs are designed to address homelessness by giving the homeless a place to live, first and foremost. 

“The idea is, get them in a home, get these families situated and then take the next steps from there,” said Chandler. 

The city says it’s still designing the new signs and doesn’t have an estimate yet on when they’ll go up. 

The United Way of Central New Mexico has been responsible for collecting and distributing the donations coming from the blue signs over the last few years. The United Way didn’t return KRQE News 13’s request for comment Tuesday. 

Mayor Keller also says the city will leave the Westside homeless shelter open year-round in 2019, instead of closing it in March. 

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