NYC is offering one-way tickets out of town to its homeless

Posted: July 30, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Morality, Politics

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.

However…

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.

Oh yes…

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?

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Comments
  1. Rev. Cynthia says:

    What do you know about one-way airline tickets to Hawaii being given to homeless folks? Fact or Fiction?

  2. Skye says:

    I like this idea… perhaps if all cities were to implement it, and families were willing to help, it would somewhat reduce the homeless population. If we could come up with creative ideas, workable solutions, so many people could be helped.

  3. Steven says:

    Michael – we had a similar program established here in Nashville and because it was being funded by the local downtown partnership and the chief of police, it raised many red flags with advocates like myself. HOWEVER, once I investigated and actually spent time speaking with those who had initiated the program, I discovered that it was set up similarly to what NY is doing now. In fact, the plan called for the local Homeless advocacy group, the Nashville Homeless Power Project, to screen those who were getting the bus tickets to ensure that they were really leaving of their own volition rather than having the cops run them out of town, with the help of local area businesses.
    The Exec Director of the NHPP at the time had a conversation with the lieutenant of the central precinct on the day prior to the media conference discussing the situation and the two of them had agreed not only on how to accomplish the effort, but that the NHPP would support it so long as no bus tickets were given out to anyone without first having that individual screened by them.
    The following day, when media were present, the NHPP reneged on their previous conversation, stated they weren’t supporting the effort, and stated it was not something they believed could work.
    The officer who stuck her neck out for the homeless was left publicly humiliated with a big hunk o rotten egg on her face, at least six individuals who’d been previously screened and were waiting to go were denied tickets when the two agencies pulled the plug on the effort, and to this day the officer who had been burned is doubly careful about interacting with advocates.
    It was a disaster on so many levels and worse, it took a chance for many folks on the street to reunite with families elsewhere – or get the hell outta Dodge for better conditions elsewhere. I was outraged and to this day am still pissed at the idiot who mucked up what could have been a good thing, so long as it was carefully managed and controlled.
    Thanks for sharing bro.

    • MetisRebel says:

      It sounds like some accountability was in place for this particular program Steven.

      If there were that few being moved it may have been a viable alternative for those who chose to go elsewhere. I’d still want to see follow up though.

  4. Steven says:

    sorry, but I did want to add that ultimately, we still have a way for folks to go home through Traveler’s Aid. Helen Pace is a wonderful woman who contacts a friend, relative or family member before authorizing the bus ticket funds for trips elsewhere because she is a firm believer in not shipping Nashville’s problems elsewhere. The program works well and I use it to this day; in fact, I just sent a family back to Bellingham Washington and they called me when they arrived to say thank you; the man’s mother cried her eyes out on the phone with me and it left me so powerfully shaken and grateful for Helen’s service that it still moves me when I think about it.
    Peace dude.

    • michael says:

      Steven,

      Actually, as it turns out, many cities throughout the U.S. have similar programs set up – some privately funded; some via the local government; and some a combination of the two.

      The sad irony is that a good number of those cities which most harshly criticized NYC for the “Project Reconnect” program, also have some agency or organization in place which offer the same “travel” services to the homeless. – yet, their local homeless advocacy groups, for some peculiar reason, don’t seem to be all riled up about their local homeless being given tickets elsewhere.

  5. MetisRebel says:

    My problem with this is a couple of phone calls is not “follow up”. “Follow up” is a minimum of two years analysis in any self-respecting program. Preferably a five-year statistical analysis.

    That goes for any town/city that is implementing such a program. If they aren’t doing this–then it is completely irresponsible programming. How many of those people are “falling off the grid” within the first year? Oh…no statistics? Incompetence.

    If NYC [or anywhere else for that matter] cannot provide enough housing, the simplest and cheapest solution is to open other options for alternative housing resources. Many other countries/cities have had to so in harsh economic times, including NYC during the Great Depression.

    Shuffling people around like chess pieces is not a solution — it’s a numbers game.

    • michael says:

      Metis,
      Since 2007, less than 600 of NYC’s homeless have voluntarily availed themselves of the program. They were not forced to leave. Nor were they provided with travel unless NYC workers verified that there were relatives willing to receive them.

      When you consider that NYC has in excess of 35,000 – those who have chosen to accept travel assistance to live with their families, is but a miniscule number.

      As for the “follow up” you’d like to see… lack of follow up doesn’t necessarily constitute “irresponsible programming.”

      The majority of large cities in the U.S. have non-profit organizations which will often times provide homeless person with tickets to other cities – again, providing they have someone waiting for them at the other end. None of the non-profit organizations do any type of follow up.

      To expect NYC to follow up on someone for a period of two years or more is not realistic due to a lacking of funding. If they had the money to continue to do follow up for two or more years, then certainly they would have the funding to provide housing. There are numerous other cities which also provide similar services. The only difference is that no one has made a “stink” about them.

      And while others may disagree with me, I personally feel that it is better for folks to be reconnected with family (regardless of where those families may be geographically located) who are willing to take them in rather than leave them trapped within a shelter system that doesn’t work – or worse yet, on the streets.

  6. MetisRebel says:

    What I’d like to see, is a program implemented where someone who wants a bus ticket to go where the work is–could do so. That might be feasible…

  7. Matt says:

    Cynthia,

    I know Hawaii were considering a plan to send their homeless to wherever they came from also but I don’t know of any to send people TO Hawaii. This is the legislation:

    http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/bills/HB1187_HD1_.htm

  8. Matt says:

    I’ve been watching this story develop for a while and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. I can see both sides. Good or bad though I’m not at all convinced of NYC’s motives.

    We started something similar in the UK which they call repatriation. It covers the cost of returning immigrants (largely eastern European) who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ to their home nation.

    • michael says:

      Matt,
      Like yourself, I have mixed feelings about NYC’s “Project Re-Connect” Program – as it’s called.

      Some folks are claiming that Mayor Bloomberg has implemented the program due to his pending re-election bid for later this year. However, the program has been in place for two years. Additionally, despite the many critics this program has, it is completely voluntary. No one is penalized for not availing themselves of it. Moreover, it turns out that the greater number of folks who are taking advantage of the program are families.

      More like as not, there are indeed political motives behind the program, but to paraphrase my favorite author: “Even the worst of scoundrels may end up doing good that he didn’t intend.”

  9. Rev. Cynthia says:

    Matt, thanks for the link to the Hawaiian law. Maybe this “urban legend” is a result of confusion about that law.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I worked for the City of New York prior to Mayor Bloomberg’s reign. When I became homeless after my college graduation, I left NYC only to become homeless elsewhere. I returned to NYC, and approached an employee in Mayor Bloomberg’s office with a number of complications that I had experienced. I was told I can only put it in writing, and shortly after I asked if one of the Mayor’s employee’s would just listen for a minute, I was asked if I needed an escort downstairs. I offered to escort myself downstairs, and the security guards in the building expressed disbelief when I told them of our conversation.

    I recently appraoched Project Reconnect to ask if they would help me get back to NYC when a close family member passed away, but they would not. Guess Mayor Bloomberg is too busy writing letters to Chinese restaurants throughout the country congratulating them on being named one of the top 100 Chinese restaurants in the country to focus on keeping people here who were raised here, paid taxes here, and went to school here.

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