Lawmakers in Hawaii are attempting to tackle the state's rampant homelessness rate (the highest in the country) by offering qualified homeless residents a one-way ticket out of the state. A three-year pilot program allocated $100,000 for two years, with the possibility for an increase if the program was a success. Over 17,000 people in Hawaii are homeless and the initial funding is not nearly enough to sustain an effective program — but it's a start.
Hawaii is an expensive place to live and its isolation makes travel expensive and limiting. While program does release the state from a significant portion of its welfare expenditure responsibilities, it does not guarantee that the individual will find greater opportunity once he or she has relocated to another state. While the program has minor flaws that can be addressed, the fundamental purpose of the program is beneficial to the homeless, the local community, and the state, giving Hawaii's homeless a chance to move someplace where they could find a better chance at success. .
The "return-to-home" program would enable homeless people who currently reside in Hawaii and who have family or job opportunities in other states to relocate to that area. The program was added to a recently passed housing bill that stipulated the introduction of the 3-year pilot program. Its sponsors are adamant that the program will be beneficial. In contrast, its opponents believe that this program could result in law enforcement officials forcing homeless people to leave, ridding the state of the financial burden.
I happen to agree with the program's supporters. For an individual to qualify for the "return-to-home" program, this must be the first time they are participating in the program and he or she must affirm that they are enrolling voluntarily. "Return-to-home" is not intended to provide an all-encompassing solution, said State Rep. John Mizuno (D) "It's going to be a handful of homeless people that we send home, again — home to their support unit."
Opponents of the program reference similar plans conducted in Baton Rouge, New York City, and San Francisco. These programs require that individuals provide evidence that they have a job lined up at their next destination. Many times, there is little follow-up or verification that greater opportunity awaits the individual at their destination. Another notable consequence of these programs has been that the term "voluntarily" hasn't always meant voluntary. Numerous times, when homeless individuals have had confrontations with the law, the judge has given them the option to go to jail, or "voluntarily" choose a one-way ticket out of the city. In Hawaii, opponents of the program see comparable pitfalls in implementing the "return-to-home" program.
In a Think Progress interview, the Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, Michael Stoops, suggested that for the program to be a success, it should not be run by law-enforcement personnel but rather homeless advocacy groups. This would eliminate any pressure or obligation for an individual to leave.
Now, I understand that this program does not nearly provide enough support or the perfect solution for a majority of the homeless people, but it is an initial step towards change. It is important to make the distinction that this program is not intended to simply ship off homeless people, as some have suggested. Instead, it is intended as a pilot program with the goal of sending around 100 people a year to more suitable and valuable places, while also attempting to reduce some of the state's welfare costs. It sends them to place where they have an established support group. The intent of this program is charitable. Let's hope it is successful in giving people a chance to start a new life.