Ticket Outta Here: One-Way To End A Homeless Problem
For decades, American cities have been offering homeless people free bus tickets to relocate elsewhere. In recent years, homeless relocation programs have become more common, sprouting up in new cities across the States at a cost of millions of dollars. But until recently there has never been a systematic, nationwide assessment of the consequences. Where are these people being moved to? What impact are these programs having on the cities that send and the cities that receive them? And what happens to these homeless people after they reach their destination? In late 2017, following an 18-month investigation, the Guardian published the first detailed analysis of America’s homeless relocation programs after compiling a database of 34,000+ people; those who were homeless and relocated, friends and relatives who received them at their destination, and the shelter managers, police officers and outreach workers who supplied them with their one-way tickets. Some of these journeys provide a route out of homelessness, and many recipients of free tickets said they are grateful for the opportunity for a fresh start. Returning to places they previously lived, many rediscover old support networks, finding a safe place to sleep, caring friends or family, and the stepping stones that lead, eventually, to their own home. But that is far from the whole story. While the stated goal of homeless relocation programs is helping people, the schemes also serve the interests of cities, which view free bus tickets as a cheap and effective way of cutting their homeless populations. The Guardian reported that people are routinely sent thousands of miles away after only a cursory check by authorities to establish they have a suitable place to stay once they get there. Some said they feel pressured into taking tickets, and others described ending up on the streets within weeks of their arrival.
“Once they get you out of their city,
they really don’t care what happens to you.”
Jeff Weinberger, co-founder of the Florida Homelessness Action Coalition, a not-for-profit that operates in a state with four bus programs, said the schemes are a “smoke-and-mirrors ruse tantamount to shifting around the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than reducing homelessness”. The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (Shal), a not-for-profit in Key West, runs a relocation program that requires recipients of