Who Benefits from Homeless Relocation Programs?

AP Photo/David Goldman

Sending our problems elsewhere is an American tradition. We sell our recyclables to China. We try to bury our nuclear waste in the Nevada desert. For thirty years, American cities have run “homeless relocation programs,” where taxpayers provide homeless people bus and airplane tickets to move somewhere else.

For The Guardian, a team of researchers named Outside in America spent 18 months examining where exactly these homeless people go, and what happens after they arrive. This 16-city analysis is the first comprehensive investigation into these expensive, contentious programs, intended to see who, if anyone, benefits and how. At the heart of this analysis are the stories of some of the people who took a ticket.

The underlying assumption of the relocation programs, which have names such as “Homeward Bound” and “Family Reunification,” is that returning to a hometown or relative will lead to a process of rehabilitation. But for some, homelessness is driven by domestic conflicts and broken relationships, issues that may be rooted in the places they are returning to.

Last year Fort Lauderdale sent Fran Luciano, 49, back to her native New York to stay with her ex-husband, according to program records. A home health aide who cared for patients with cancer before she ended up homeless, Luciano had been sleeping in bus shelters and at the airport in the Florida city and desperately wanted to leave.

When Fort Lauderdale offered her a bus ticket back to New York, she said her instant reaction was: “Yeah, of course I want to go home.” The city asked for a contact there, and Luciano could only think to provide her ex-husband’s details, although she said she stressed she could not stay with him given their divorce was acrimonious.

When she arrived at the Greyhound station in New York, Luciano sat on her luggage and wondered where to go. For around six months she shuttled between shelters, eventually ending up in the small town of Nanuet, where she spent nights in McDonald’s and was assaulted. She is now back in Fort Lauderdale.

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