Better Way program to help panhandlers find work faces overcrowding

TULSA, Okla. -- Just one week after launching, Tulsa's Better Way program is turning people away.

It's aimed at getting panhandlers off street corners and putting them to work in the community.

Ricky Erwin makes his living circling parking lots, telling his story, and doing whatever he can to keep from going hungry. He's been doing this for 10 years.

"I just can't stand doing it. It's really embarrassing, degrading, it's not what I want to do with my life," Erwin said.

Last year one woman saw Erwin panhandling in Tulsa. Since then, she's taken him under her wing. On Wednesday, D'Anne Means drove him downtown to look for more reliable work through the Better Way program.

RELATED: Program launched to employ Tulsa's homeless population

"There were just... already by the time we got there this morning, so many people there. You could just see how great the need was," Means said.

Close to 25 people showed up for only eight spots on Wednesday. Some who waited overnight were still turned away. But Erwin said this isn't going to stop him from trying again.

"I'm trying to get my life together now. I've got a record so it's really hard just to find a job in general. I've applied at many places and just really haven't been having luck," he said.

Others who sought out the program over the last week said they want to break the perception that panhandlers don't want to work.

"I like to work. I love to work. Last year I was working on a roof with some guys. That's all I did last summer was work on a roof," Kimberly Almond said.

The Mental Health Association Oklahoma uses the van for roving outreach on Mondays and Fridays, and picks up workers on site every Wednesday.

"We are definitely tracking our data to see who is being turned away so that if we need to expand this program, we would like to be able to build a case in the future," director Alex Aguilar said.

For more information about A Better Way, visit: www.abetterwaytulsa.org.

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