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Portland provides work opportunity to panhandlers

With tourist season approaching, city leaders are trying something new to get panhandlers off street corners. (WGME)

PORTLAND (WGME) -- For ten years, panhandling has been prevalent in Portland.

The city tried to outlaw panhandling in medians, which a judge shot down.

They even removed a median on Congress Street to keep panhandlers away.

Now, city leaders are taking a new approach.

On busy Portland street corners, panhandlers carry cardboard signs and ask drivers for money.

With tourist season approaching, city leaders are trying something new to get panhandlers off street corners.

Recovering addict Peter Laroche now works for the city a few days a week picking up trash.

"This is part time work and I can work at my own pace, which is really good for me. Not a lot of jobs provide that," Laroche said. "We get fed breakfast and lunch. And we get paid, which is even better. You know, it helps everyone. You know, it's a win-win."

The new program, called the Portland Opportunity Crew, pays panhandlers the city's minimum wage of $10.68 an hour to clean up parks and trails.

Sean O'Brien says he makes more money doing this than he ever did panhandling.

"It feels great after I get my check," O’Brien said.

Matt Pryor oversees the program and approaches panhandlers to see if they're interested.

"I'm never going to tell people they can't be out on the median, tell them they can't be panhandling,” Pryor said. “I'm just offering them an alternative."

Right now, the $44,000 budget is enough to offer work two days a week, to six people, through November.

"Picking up trash, doing this work, makes me feel good," O’Brien said.

City social workers are also actively looking for full time jobs for these workers, hoping to get them into a more permanent situation.

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