The news: This is the new "if a tree falls in a forest" question: If people become homeless and are then shipped out of town, does the town have a homelessness problem at all?
According to the town of Sarasota, Fla., no. On Tuesday the City Commission unanimously voted to set aside $1,000 for a "Homeward Bound fund," which would entail offering the homeless a one-way ticket out of town, according to the Associated Press. Two Sarasota residents have already contributed $1,000 apiece to the fund, and the city is scaling up its operations in conjunction with Resurrection House and the Salvation Army.
"We don't just want to send people away," Calvin Collins, a member of the city's Homeless Outreach Team, told ABC Action News. "We want to prepare people to go to their community and thrive and become a good citizen."
Why this is a problem: Sarasota's argument is that by sending its homeless population elsewhere, those people can have a better chance reconnecting with their families and starting a new life. According to officials, this process has already begun. But the problem with this logic is that the issue of homelessness is much more complicated than that.
Not only does the fund avoid tackling the root of homelessness, it fails to consider a number of significant factors, such as whether the homeless person in question has a safe place to stay, whether they are in any condition to travel and whether they would have a better chance finding employment at their destination. The current form of the program is just to offer people a one-way bus ticket out of town, but don't be surprised if Sarasota becomes so enamored with the program that it turns this "offer" into a "strong suggestion."
The city clarified it will attempt to screen the homeless population to determine who would benefit from the program, but it hasn't provided details on how it will do so or how many people would be affected. Instead, Sarasota's attitude so far seems to be: Not our problem — let other cities deal with these people.
There are absolutely better ways to go about decreasing homelessness. According to Collins, there are around 250 homeless people in Sarasota. Among them, only 11 were placed in homes through outreach programs, while 35 veterans were given access to federal benefits. That's a paltry fraction of the city's homeless population. The Herald-Tribune has also reported that a proposal for a homeless shelter was abandoned this summer.
Building shelters and making resources available to the homeless are all more effective, long-term solutions than simply shipping them off and hoping that they don't come back. As it stands, the "Homeward Bound fund" is nothing more than a Band-Aid strategy that fails to provide a viable, sustainable solution to the problem.