Should Seattle homeless people be given free tickets to leave town?
When Seattle homeless campers refuse offers of shelter, and won’t remove their tents, what should be done? How about a plane ticket?
In the case of a couple living in a so-called “homeless mansion” on Seattle’s 3rd Avenue for 81 days, KOMO reports that the city ultimately provided them with free plane tickets to Kansas.
But is this really a solution to homelessness?
“I think these guys who set this up knew exactly what they were doing,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “Some people describe them as performance artists. We should just let them go.”
“We’re paying them to go be someone else’s problem. I think it’s a terrible policy,” said 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil. “This sure sounds like it’s ‘You will not accept any housing solutions from us, and you’re insisting on living in a tent. What if we gave you a ticket to get you out of Seattle?’ And they’re like, ‘OK.'”
Seattle is not the only city to undertake such measures. An 18-month nationwide investigation by the Guardian found that countless cities are providing means for homeless people to leave. In New York City, authorities have sent homeless to upstate New York and paid their rent for a year. Hawaii will fly you wherever you want to go with a one-way ticket. And Portland has a program with $50,000 of taxpayer money where they’ll also send you anywhere.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Fine, give them the money and have them leave. If they want to go somewhere, they can go,'” Curley said. “Now here’s the question: Should we call Manhattan, Kansas and say, ‘Hey, we want to let you know we’re shipping a couple of people to you’? Manhattan, Kansas has a homeless population of 706, plus two.”
“So we’re trading?” O’Neil added. “It’s passing the buck instead of solving the problem.”
The practice has been in place for decades in numerous cities, and thousands of homeless people have been moved. To qualify, there often must be a confirmed person or relative who will receive and house the traveler. What’s uncertain is whether it’s working.
Is sending Seattle homeless elsewhere actually helping?
Many people who are provided tickets out of town wind up being homeless again at the destination. Few cities have any record what happens after they get there. Though in Portland, 70 percent of 416 travelers remained housed three months after traveling.
In the case of Seattle’s tent mansion residents, the move was financed by Compass Housing Alliance, a city contractor that runs shelters and provides homeless services. They’ve recently set aside upwards of $50,000 for this kind of travel support.
“This is how I see it,” O’Neil said. “It’s our obligation to provide housing alternatives to people who are camping out. If they won’t accept those, they can’t camp out.”
For Curley, there’s no clear way to deal with cases of people who refuse city offers of shelter beds, and refuse to leave their tents.
“They’re like, ‘Until you come back and offer me something better, I’m just going to live here on the sidewalk.’ So what do you do with that?” he said. “Is that when the cops come in?”