American taxpayers spend millions of dollars a year on bus tickets out of town for homeless people. New York City alone budgets about $500,000 annually for its homeless relocation program, which can also include expensive plane tickets to places like Nigeria, France, and New Zealand. But despite the money being spent on busing homeless people somewhere else, there's never been a large-scale study on the effectiveness—for cities or homeless people themselves—of such programs. In an eyeopening piece, the Guardian spent 18 months investigating relocation programs, identifying more than 34,000 trips taken by homeless people out of 16 cities and counties—in the western US, Florida, and New York—that have such programs. The results show the outcomes of busing homeless people out of town are all over the map.
A 22-year-old woman was homeless and struggling with alcoholism when she was bused out of Fort Lauderdale and returned to her mother; she credits it with saving her life. But a 49-year-old woman also shipped out of Fort Lauderdale to New York faced nights in a McDonald's, abuse, and a return to the Florida city she left. Homeless people report feeling forced to accept bus tickets, and a man given a ticket out of Key West says he felt the program "stabbed me in the back." Relocation programs say they can give homeless people a chance to return to old support networks in their hometowns and get a new start, but cities aren't necessarily acting purely out of good intentions. For example, bus tickets are cheap compared to the estimated $80,000 each chronically homeless person costs San Francisco on a yearly basis. Read the full story here.