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How Cities Are Giving Thousands of Homeless People One-Way Bus Tickets to Leave Town

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A major new review by The Guardian examined how cities are struggling to solve the problem of homelessness via the year, and found many have come to rest on an old solution: a one-way sheet out of town. Relocation programs that offer homeless people free train tickets to pierce elsewhere have been around for at slightest 3 decades. But as the homeless race rises for the first time given the Great Recession, relocation programs are apropos some-more common and are expanding to some-more cities. We pronounce with The Guardian’s homelessness editor, Alastair Gee, about many people who were bused out, remained homeless and eventually returned to the city they had left.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: As much of the Midwest faces winter snowstorms and the East Coast faces frozen temperatures this week, many cities have released Weather Emergency Alerts that concede them to place people who are homeless into emergency shelters. Well, currently we speak about a new investigation by The Guardian that looks at how cities onslaught to solve the problem of homelessness via the year, and found many have come to rest on an old solution: a one-way sheet out of town. Relocation programs that offer homeless people free train tickets to pierce elsewhere have been around for at slightest 3 decades. But as the homeless race rises for the first time given the Great Recession, relocation programs are apropos some-more common and are expanding to some-more cities.

AMY GOODMAN: In its investigation, The Guardian closely examined these homeless relocation programs by compiling and examining a database of some-more than 34,000 train trips or flights taken by homeless people out of their cities. They found the tour supposing a track out of homelessness for some, but many eventually returned to the city they had left. This is 27-year-old Quinn Raber, who trafficked scarcely 2,300 miles over 3 days from San Francisco to Indianapolis by bus, only to return.

QUINN RABER: I wasn’t awaiting to come back to San Francisco as shortly as we did, but we knew we was going to finish up coming back eventually. The roughest partial about being homeless is the wear and rip from the petrify and the consistent walking. And it’s tough to use the restroom, given a lot of businesses don’t wish homeless people in their restrooms and messing them up. You know, it really breaks you down. we don’t know if we would ask Homeward Bound for a sheet again, just given we know that you’re not really ostensible ask for some-more than one. But if they—you know, if they would be peaceful to help, I’d ask them. You know?

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re assimilated in San Francisco by Alastair Gee, the homelessness editor for The Guardian, the new investigation by the Outside in America group headlined “Bussed out: How America moves its homeless.”

Alastair, acquire to Democracy Now! Just lay out what you found.

ALASTAIR GEE: Thank you so much for having me.

Well, we done dozens of open annals requests. And the suspicion was to really know what outcome these train programs were having on the homeless race in America. Cities, of course, would contend that these programs are a really good way to offer people some-more stability. It’s a way to reconnect people with family or with friends in other locations and maybe offer them a track out of homelessness. And we found that while in some cases that was positively what happened, for some people it positively was a way to larger stability, for others it wasn’t utterly that simple. We found cases where people simply became homeless at their destination. In some instances, they even became homeless again in the city from which they had departed. So, the story really isn’t utterly as simple, and it really isn’t utterly as flushed a picture as cities would portray.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to a new sovereign study, the U.S. homeless population, as we pronounced earlier, rose this year for the first time given the Great Recession. What do you know about given that is and what the impact of that has been?

ALASTAIR GEE: Right. That’s a really good point. Well, the arise has been driven, in particular, by the trends that we’re seeing on the West Coast, and that’s to do with a let affordability crisis. Everywhere from Seattle down to Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s simply apropos unfit for people earning, certainly, smallest wage, but even salary above that, it’s just—it’s very, very formidable to means somewhere to live. So that’s what’s really pushing the trend. And we consider the picture, though, is in the credentials here, and it’s been a consistent component of the homelessness predicament in the U.S., is a long-term sovereign underinvestment in affordable housing, something that was really begun, these cuts, in the Reagan epoch and, in the opinion of advocates, has never really been scrupulously redressed given then.

AMY GOODMAN: This is 62-year-old Willie Romines, who took a train from Key West to Ocala, Florida. He told The Guardian, given he supposed a free train sheet from the preserve he was vital in, he was barred from returning.

WILLIE ROMINES: It’s like, “Close the door. Get out of here. We bought you a train ticket. You can’t come back.” That put a spiteful on me. we feel like we was swindled. Since I’ve been banned from the shelter, I’ve stayed on Smathers Beach, behind buildings, behind bushes, hedgerows. I’ve slept next to dumpsters and things like that. They tell you anything, given they wish you out of here. They wish all the homeless out of Key West.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Rose Thompson, a 58-year-old lady who relocated from Florida to West Virginia. She told The Guardian she went back to Key West only 3 weeks after leaving.

ROSE THOMPSON: I had a seizure and my heart stopped at the soup kitchen. So we wanted to go back to West Virginia and stay with my daughter. They were staying, it’s like, in a three-bedroom trailer. And then her little child slept on the couch, where we was sleeping, so they wanted me to go to a homeless shelter. And we didn’t wish to stay in a homeless preserve in West Virginia, given we don’t know anybody up there anymore. And from the time we left here to the time we got back, it was accurately 3 weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can speak about these people, Alastair Gee, and speak about, you know, what their resources were? And also, how much are taxpayers profitable for all of that, simply for them to return?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, Willie was a person that one of the reporters met in Key West. And as you mentioned earlier, the Key West scheme is really unusual. Of the 15 or so programs from which we perceived data, Key West was the only one that had this stipulation. They radically done you sign a kind of contract. If you went to the program and requested a train ticket, they would ask you to radically announce that should you return to Key West, that you wouldn’t relief yourself of homeless services there on the island again. And so, what this means is that you have people like Rose, for instance, who are sleeping on beaches, sleeping outdoors, because, essentially, they have taken a ticket. It didn’t work out, where they came from, and they’ve just finished up back in Key West.

So, in the case of Rose, for instance, she wanted to transport back to West Virginia, where she’s from, to stay with her daughter. She got back there. It turns out that her daughter simply wasn’t means to offer her the kind of support that she indispensable to find her way out of homelessness. Rose would be vital in an packed trailer. She was sleeping on a couch. And eventually, her daughter had to take her to a homeless preserve in West Virginia. So Rose finished up coming back to Key West, and that’s where she is now. And so she simply has no shelter. She has nowhere to stay. And so, she, unfortunately, is sleeping outdoor there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Alastair—

ALASTAIR GEE: And we consider you also—oh, please, go ahead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: No, please, go ahead.

ALASTAIR GEE: Could you remind me of your other question?

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, articulate about, you know, the cost to taxpayers, given what we’re articulate about now is people who take these journeys, either train or plane, some feeling coerced, and then they finish up back in the city they’re in.

ALASTAIR GEE: Right, right. Well, we have total from the city of New York, for instance, which budgets half a million dollars per year for its program. And cities around the country, while not quite—they don’t have programs that are utterly as vast as the one in New York, we consider we can safely assume that over the march of years, that cities are spending millions of dollars on these kinds of things. And it’s engaging given the efficiency of these programs. While cities would contend that these are a good way to help people get out of homelessness, there really isn’t very much long-term investigate that testifies to that.

So, for instance, we spoke to the city of San Francisco and requested information from them. And they supposing many, many years’ data, going back to the 2000s. But, for instance, for a 5-year period, between 2010 and 2015, when the city offering thousands of people train tickets and thousands of people left the city, the city could only yield us annals showing that it had been means to follow up with only 3 of those people to find out if their conditions at the other finish had improved. And that was really—that was a identical conditions opposite the board. While a few smaller cities did have some long-term follow-up data, mostly they did not, and the cities really had no suspicion what happened to the people who had taken tickets out of their cities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alastair, what did you find out about the commission of people who opt to leave the cities they’re vital in, the homeless people who opt to leave, and those who are, in some sense, coerced or forced to leave?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, that’s a really good question. And we consider it’s critical to discuss from the opening that the infancy of people who are homeless in any given city are from that city. Whenever cities do their homeless race counts, they mostly do surveys, and they find this trend that’s replicated opposite the board. And so, it is actually a parable that—as is common in many cities in the West, that somebody is drawn there for the services or for the weather. Most people are actually from that city. But for the percentage, the tiny percentage, that aren’t from that city, these programs can be a good choice.

In terms of coercion, it wasn’t something that we found very often. These programs generally are voluntary. And the way it works is that someone would take themselves to a sheet office, and they would make a ask for a ticket. And that’s how it would work. But in the case of one family in New York, the Ortiz family, we did find that they felt that they had been given no other choice than to take a ticket. Jose Ortiz, he told us that he had left to the city’s homelessness dialect in the summer this year. His family, his immature family, had been homeless in the city of New York, and he had requested some help, just in time, really, to help him get his family back on his feet. He says that the city dynamic that given he had, in their words, a better housing option on the island of Puerto Rico, that he wasn’t authorised for homeless services in the city of New York. And in his terms, as it was laid out to him, he was given only one choice, which was to take the craft sheet out of town.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you speak about what’s happening in San Francisco right now, which is experiencing a homeless crisis, looking at the impact that the series of people bused out of the city have? And also, right here in New York City, if you can speak about one of the first places to adopt this supposed relocation program?

ALASTAIR GEE: Yeah. So, to understanding with the second indicate first, New York, as distant as we could tell, was the first major city to launch a program. Its program came about in around 1987. And it hasn’t continued but postponement given then. It was relaunched in its stream form under Mayor Bloomberg. But it positively has a lot of story there.

The program in San Francisco came about later, in around 2005. And officials in San Francisco told me that—in fact, a police commander told me that they were looking to the instance of the city of Sacramento, and they thought, “Why can’t we have a program like that?”

And so, the effect, as you mentioned, on San Francisco’s homeless race has been utterly dramatic. We looked at the homeless depends in San Francisco over many years, and we tried to calculate what the race in the city, the homeless population, would have been had this program not existed. And we did a very severe back-of-the-envelope calculation. And over the years, around 10-and-a-half thousand people have perceived train tickets from San Francisco’s Homeward Bound program. And its homeless race today, on any one night, is around 7,000 to 8,000 people. And so, of course, the calculation doesn’t take into comment people who competence have come into San Francisco by other train programs, for which we don’t have data, or people who have been—become homeless in San Francisco while vital in San Francisco. But, very roughly, we estimated that the race of San Francisco could have been 18,000 homeless people on any one night, had this program not existed. So, that’s some-more than double the stream race of around 7,000 to 8,000.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Key West, Florida. You spoke also to a former preserve central there in Key West who shielded the policy of banning people who have been relocated from returning. This is Mike Tolbert.

MIKE TOLBERT: The reason for a one-way ticket, we don’t wish a revolving-door transport agency. If you let them come back, they’re going to wish another ticket. And then you got the people, everybody wanting a ticket, everybody wanting to come back. And it’s just not going to work. The program will not work. The folks who take the train sheet and complain about it, they consider we owe them something. We gave you all we can give you. There is 0 else we can give you. I’m good with it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Mike Tolbert in Key West, Florida. Alastair, can you contend how representative his instance is of other homeless people in Florida and even elsewhere?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, the Key West program, they were positively the most, we would say, blunt about that kind of thing. As we mentioned, the Key West program did seem, in some senses, to be an outlier, we would say, given other programs stress some-more that this was some-more of a charitable bid to support people. And Key West came down utterly squarely—I suspect they would contend that it was both a charitable thing, but also they were doing a good thing by shortening the race and by giving these people one-way tickets out of town. And so, we wouldn’t contend that that opinion is intensely representative, but it is very, very unusual. And that’s given we sent some reporters there to meet people like Willie and Rose and, certainly, to hear some-more about their stories.

AMY GOODMAN: And the story of the person who was flown from New York to Puerto Rico, explain that program, and quite now, after Hurricane Maria.

ALASTAIR GEE: Right. Well, the Ortiz family, as we mentioned, they took a craft to get back in August. And as they felt, it was under duress. They really didn’t wish to go. It was a man, his wife, their two immature children. And the contributor beheld that the relatives were doing their best to put a dauntless face on it when they were at JFK. The kids were very, very happy to be getting on a plane. But the parents, they were really trying to facade their feelings about it. And so, they trafficked back to Puerto Rico in August. We were means to stay in hold with them a little bit over Facebook. When Jose Ortiz returned to Puerto Rico, he messaged us to contend that he had a pursuit talk as a confidence guard, and so he was feeling confident about that. But once the hurricane had been through, it became tough for us to get in hold with him. And we really, despite the efforts, haven’t been means to get back in hold with them given then, and so we don’t know now how—how that family is doing, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, taxes. That’s the big news of the Christmas and holiday weekends, as President Trump has just sealed this and pronounced that this helps bad and operative people. What are your concerns about taxes and homelessness?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, all the advocates that we spoke to were hoping, maybe vainly, we consider they would say, that taxation remodel competence be a bonus for affordable housing, for the construction of homes that really the many bankrupt Americans could afford. And there was sold concentration on the debt seductiveness deduction, which is this taxation mangle that you can take. Essentially, it goes to the wealthiest Americans, who use it to help them buy some-more costly homes. That’s the outcome of taxation analysts, even yet it’s dictated as a kind of middle-class taxation break. And so, experts were anticipating that this would be reformed and that the revenues from that would be channeled into affordable housing construction.

As it stands, the supervision spends twice as much on that taxation mangle for the wealthiest Americans than it does on let assistance, the Section 8 program, for the lowest Americans. And so, in the reconciled chronicle of the taxation bill, as it appears now, there has been a little bit of remodel of that deduction, but it doesn’t seem that that money—at slightest it hasn’t been settled it undisguised that that income is going to be channeled into affordable housing production, which is what advocates would really like. So, we consider there’s a extended clarity of beating that this was an event here to really, potentially, renovate the landscape, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And the frozen weather?

ALASTAIR GEE: The frozen weather is—extreme elements are really the scandal of a homeless person’s life. We reported back in the summer, the blazing temperatures in Arizona during that feverishness call was intensely formidable for homeless people, who couldn’t even walk on the pavement given it was burning. And it’s the same with the cold weather today. Unfortunately, it’s very, very tough to make it on the streets if you’re trying to simply stay alive given of the elements. I’m certain in Washington, D.C., as is always the case and as has been the case for decades now, we’ll see people trying to comfortable themselves on grates, given that is, for many people, simply the only source of feverishness that there is. And so, we know that advocates opposite the West, in particular, are just looking out for that and examination for layer and trying to help people as best they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Absolutely strange weather from International Falls, Minnesota, 37 degrees next zero. Erie, Pennsylvania, over 5 feet of sleet has depressed there, and they design more. Alastair Gee, interjection so much for being with us, homelessness editor for The Guardian. His team’s latest article, formed on an 18-month investigation, is headlined “Bussed out: How America moves its homeless.” We’ll couple to it at democracynow.org.


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