Homeless advocates say a one-way bus ticket out of town isn’t a bad idea, as long as the person has a place to stay upon arrival.
BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ AND CARLI TEPROFF
The South Florida strategy to end homelessness is nothing if not multi-pronged — combining essential food and shelter services with counseling, employment assistance...and one-way bus tickets.
Hundreds of Greyhound bus tickets, in fact, are given out every year.
The city of Fort Lauderdale this week joined the ranks of local government agencies acting as ticket brokers — providing homeless individuals and families with free one-way bus rides out of town. Fort Lauderdale plans to spend about $25,000 a year on the effort, while Miami-Dade and Broward counties each spend at least twice that much annually.
Homeless advocates say the free bus trips are worthwhile if those traveling are being welcomed and sheltered by friends or family at their arrival city. Large metropolitan areas across the country, including New York and San Francisco, have their own free-trip programs.
Before it pays for the bus ticket, Broward County has a policy of requiring the homeless traveler to show identification, and their friend or loved one must confirm by phone that they are offering up their home.
“I can’t think of a time when somebody’s given somebody’s name and they’ve said ‘No, they can’t come here,’” said Sarah Curtis, a section manager in Broward’s Human Services department. “We’ve had grandmothers cry and say ‘Bring my babies home.’”
An emotional support network can boost the chances of a person breaking the cycle of homelessness and getting permanently back on their feet.
While not all homeless people are struggling with substance abuse issues, some certainly are. Moving to a different environment can be key for those trying to quit drugs or alcohol, said Brian Marks, a caseworker with the Fort Lauderdale-based Coalition to End Homelessness.
“A lot of people need that,” Marks said, while adding, “Who doesn’t want to be with their family for the holidays?”
The idea of reuniting with her 15-year-old son and ex-husband does hold some appeal for Kathy Paulson, who celebrated her 40th birthday this week as a homeless woman — though fellow street dwellers at Fort Lauderdale’s Stranahan Park did manage to buy her a cake. Paulson was living in the Apopka area of Central Florida until October, when she headed south with the idea of getting work running a game booth at the Broward County Fair.
That job never happened, Paulson said. Now, with no money to pay for a trip home, Paulson said a free ride north on the Florida Turnpike would feel downright “refreshing.”
“I would take it,” she said. “I’d have a roof over my head.”
While advocates for the homeless say Miami-Dade and Broward are doing it right, some cities and organizations have at times used free travel as a way to simply ship their homeless problem elsewhere.
In 2004, when three Key West mothers and their infant children were sent to Miami without a place to stay, Miami-Dade’s publicly-funded Homeless Trust responded angrily with a cease-and-desist letter directed at a Keys-based outreach group.
Miami-Dade County’s free-trip program, like others both locally and around the country, is referred to as a “family reunification” service. Miami-Dade’s relocation methods, while primarily Greyhound-based, also include occasional air travel. The county has paid for airfare in instances where it is cheaper than bus fare, the traveler has a disability making a multi-day bus ride impractical, or the traveler’s home is in another country.
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