Yesterday, headlines from quite a number of newspapers around the nation – as well as some of the television media – announced that New York City was giving its homeless one-way tickets out of town as a cost-saving measure.
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Mayor Bloomberg, or the manner in which he and his administration have gone about addressing homelessness in the Big Apple. In fact, over the last few months I’ve criticized some of the tactics which NYC has employed to "handle" its homeless population.
So, my initial reaction to the headline of the first news article I read about these "one-way tickets out of town" was one of: "What nonsense is Bloomberg up to now?"
I’m not sure how many articles I read all told, but there were definitely more than just a handful. In addition, all of them seemed to be nothing more than a variation on a theme. And, all of them were objecting to NYC giving the homeless one-tickets to destinations elsewhere.
Eventually, I came across a New York Times article about NYC’s "homeless relocation program."
After reading it, I realized straightaway that all of the other reports I’d read had taken their basic information from the New Times article.
What’s more – whether by design, or by error – some of the other articles actually "mis-reported" what had been in the NY Times article. Subsequently, many folks from around the nation are seeing it as a type of "homeless deportation" policy.
Arnold S. Cohen, president and chief executive of the Partnership for the Homeless in NYC, criticized the program and said:
"The city is engaged in cosmetics. What we’re doing is passing the problem of homelessness to another city. We’re taking people from a shelter bed here to the living room couch of another family. Essentially, this family is still homeless."
I agree with Mr. Cohen that those families who are provided with a ticket elsewhere by the program are technically still homeless.
There were several salient points which so many of the other articles failed to mention.
First is that NYC’s "homeless relocation" program is completely voluntary. No homeless person or family is being forced to leave town. Folks are being offered a ticket as an option.
So, it isn’t as though NYPD is requiring proof from any of its homeless population that they were bona fide "New Yorkers" prior to being homeless and then taking them to the nearest Greyhound Station and placing them on the first out-going bus if their weren’t.
Additionally – as far as I’ve been able to ascertain – no one is penalized (i.e. – being denied services) if they choose not to accept the offer.
Second point is that any homeless person(s) who wish to avail themselves of the relocation program must meet one specific condition: there must be relatives at the destination point who are willing to "take them in" – something which is verified by social workers.
In other words, NYC is not just "dumping" their homeless onto the streets of some other city.
If the social workers cannot confirm that someone is indeed waiting at the other end, they will not authorize the purchase of a ticket.
But, it doesn’t end there.
According to the article,
"Once a family leaves New York, homeless services officials say they follow up with a phone call to make sure they arrive safely, then make a few more calls over the next two to three weeks."
I can understand how some might conceivably view NYC’s homeless relocation program with disdain and likening it to a "deportation" of the city’s homeless.
To be quite honest, I personally do not like the thought of any city buying airline, train or bus tickets and sending its homeless elsewhere as a way of addressing the issue.
All the same, consider that NYC doesn’t have anywhere near the shelter resources needed to accommodate every one of its homeless population.
Regardless of how distasteful it may seem to some, offering tickets to some of the homeless and sending them "home" to be with their family is actually the lesser of two evils. And, it sure as hell beats the only other alternative some of those NYC’s homeless families would have – that of literally living on the streets of the Big Apple.
The NY Times article mentioned that since the relocation program began, over 550 families have been provided with tickets.
It also mentioned that the program began in 2007!
What I wonder is: why is this just now making the headlines?