Samuel Anthony: Bussing homeless people, a cheap solution or a waste of money?

Homeless rates in cities along the West Coast have skyrocketed in recent years. People who live in these cities have seen the impacts firsthand and want something done about it. Those in charge of government programs are looking for a quick fix, and what quicker fix is there than to …

Homeless rates in cities along the West Coast have skyrocketed in recent years. People who live in these cities have seen the impacts firsthand and want something done about it. Those in charge of government programs are looking for a quick fix, and what quicker fix is there than to make it someone else’s problem?

In America, millions of dollars are spent on the relocation of thousands of homeless people every year. These people are given a one-way ticket out of town and are often told to never return. KALW, a radio station in San Francisco, even said that in the last 12 years, 10,000 people have been bussed out of San Francisco alone.

While these programs are promoted as ways to help homeless people by sending them to cities where they have family or jobs lined up, many believe that there may be an ulterior motive. The Guardian found that of those relocated, 88 percent were relocated to cities with a lower median income than the one they left.

Many believe wealthier cities are using their money to send away homeless people with little regard as to what happens to them afterward. The Guardian reported that the executive director of a program designed to help homeless people admitted pitching to wealthy citizens the idea of giving homeless people a one-way ticket out of the area in an attempt to raise funds. What’s more, he confessed to emphasizing the point that they would not be allowed to ever return.

Some cities offer one-way tickets out of town while ramping up laws that make it difficult for homeless people to live there, such as loitering laws, in an attempt to compel them to accept the offer. The Seattle Times wrote about one such instance in Atlanta, where the city was trying to drive homeless people out before the 1996 Olympics.

Along with these tactics, those who take the tickets must also sign a legally binding agreement saying they will never come back to the city again. While this program may be designed to help homeless people, this certainly doesn’t seem like a benevolent way of going about it. If those in charge of the programs truly believed they were doing a good job in sending people to places where they would be well-supported, they wouldn’t need to have them sign an agreement to never return.

According to KGW, only three months after they were bussed out, over half of those who were sent to places that were supposed to have stable homes or jobs waiting were back on the streets or unable to be contacted. Using the money spent on transportation to instead build cheap and affordable housing would almost certainly be a more permanent and effective solution.

New York City has spent as much as $6,300 on tickets for one family in the past. The city budgets half a million dollars a year for the relocation of homeless people — money that could instead be invested in a permanent solution, such as the tiny house projects that many cities are choosing to adopt.

Portland, Oregon, has an area called Dignity Village, which has small homes made from recycled material and assembled by volunteers. The village costs $28,000 a year to maintain and operate and houses over 60 people. If New York City were to replicate this program with the $500,000 of funding it already has, the city could house over a thousand people, which would make a significant dent in the homeless population.

Instead of trying to create real change through permanent solutions, many cities instead choose to try to send homeless people away in an attempt to create superficial change within their own city. This does little to actually reduce the homeless population. In addition, it puts a burden on other cities to take care of the homeless population themselves.

While there certainly isn’t an easy fix to a problem as big as homelessness, giving a homeless person a one-way bus ticket and telling them to never return simply isn’t the humane approach. Instead of trying to create a temporary fix or making it someone else’s problem, cities should take responsibility for their citizens and do their best to create a solution. Who knows, if everyone does their equal share, maybe we will create real and permanent change.


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