Revealed: Why American Taxpayers Are Spending Millions to Bus Homeless People Around the Country

Homeless relocation programs have been around for nearly 30 years, shuffling those in need from one city to the next. By and large, the efforts of these city’s relocation programs hadn’t been studied or investigated until recently. In fact, the vast majority of Americans have no idea that their tax dollars are going to move around the homelessness problem.

So, the good folks at The Guardian investigated for over a year and a half to find out exactly what happens once these homeless individuals make it to their new destinations. Furthermore, investigators searched to realize whether the relocation programs are more beneficial for the recipients, the cities, or both. Without further ado, here’s why American taxpayers are spending millions to bus homeless people around the country and beyond. 

Relocation programs have become more widespread

Homeless man sleeping outside

Large cities are putting their homeless on a one-way bus. | David McNew/Getty Images

Even though homeless relocations have existed for decades, the programs have become much more widespread in recent years, The Guardian reported. Several major cities in California and Florida are busy sending off the homeless. And Denver, Salt Lake City, New York, and Portland, Oregon, are also eager to provide one-way bus tickets.

The goal is to provide a better chance for the homeless

Homeless man panhandling

They are supposed to get a roof over their heads. | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The resounding goal of these programs is to offer the homeless a better chance at life than what they may currently have. And it’s a noble endeavor. Programs in these cities reach out to potential contacts around the country, and sometimes the world, to find out if the recipients of a one-way ticket will actually have a place to reside once they arrive. Upon the confirmation of a solid roof overhead, the homeless individual receives a free getaway ticket.

New York City spends $500,000 each year on homelessness relocation

The city’s program began in 1987. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York City was the first to kick-off a relocation program for the homeless in 1987. After all, there were over 63,000 homeless people as of a November 2017 census. So now, the city’s homelessness department budgets $500,000 of taxpayer dollars each year for relocations. As many Americans could imagine, this is the largest relocation strategy in the country. So the question is, where is all this money going?

20% of NYC’s homeless is provided worldwide plane tickets

A young homeless woman panhandles on the streets of Manhattan

They are also receiving plane tickets for distant destinations. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It’s not just bus tickets that are being gifted to the homeless. According to The Guardian, 20% of relocation recipients receive plane tickets for not just one individual, but an entire family. While New Zealand is the longest journey on record, other noteworthy destinations from New York City include the Phillippines, Guam, Nigeria, France, and India.

NYC is offering a year’s rent to some homeless individuals

New York City is desperate to alleviate the homeless situation. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Believe it or not, New York City wants the homeless to vacate five boroughs so badly that it’s offering a full year’s rent paid up-front. On top of the free rent, recipients will also have their travel expenses paid. The stipulations are that recipients need to have been in the shelter system for at least 90 days and have some kind of income.

Are the homeless just being shifted around to new places?

homeless people in subway station

It’s not necessarily getting better. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the continued efforts of the relocation programs, some critics believe the nationwide programs are simply sending the homelessness problem to another city. As one San Francisco homeless recipient, Quinn Raber, noted after returning to Indianapolis, “Starting over is really tough.” Raber’s relocation hinged on being housed by a friend. The friend had his own drug relapse, and Raber moved back to the streets of San Francisco.

Following up on the progress seems to be too costly

A homeless man sits on the street in dow

Following up on them would be expensive. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Homeless relocations haven’t had a strong follow-up procedure. Randy Quezeda, spokesperson for San Francisco’s homelessness department admitted to The Guardian, “Our record-keeping, as you discovered, has not always been that great.” And Tom Stagg of Santa Cruz mentions that following up on relocations, “Would probably cost even more than what we’re saving on the actual trips.” This lack of follow-up and closing of the circle begs the question of whether the relocations are really paying off.

Is homeless relocation actually paying off?

Homeless population in tents in Los Angeles

It works for some, but not for others. | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

It depends on who you ask. According to Florida resident Tiffany Schiessl, she would have died without her free relocation to her mother’s home. But from Willie Romines’ perspective, his one-way bus ticket out of Key West only left him feeling abandoned and stabbed in the back.

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