Free One Way Plane Tickets For NYC’s Homeless…Blessing Or Curse?

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Welcome to the 1st installation in our new column, Big Apple Dinner Party Discussions!  The idea is to explore topics or events that are happening in NYC that certainly make for interesting (and dare I say even important?) discussions for your next dinner party or date…or with the person standing behind you in line at Whole Foods.  You know, something to babble on about other than the crazy weather we’re having.  If you have suggestions of topics you would like explored, please leave them in the comments below!  And without any further adieu…here we go!

Just walking down 5th Avenue, it’s clear that homelessness is very much an issue.  You can’t pass a corner without seeing one of the following:

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With a city population of 8.4 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2013, this means roughly one in every 125 New Yorkers is currently sleeping in overpopulated shelters or on the street.  

What, we often wonder, is the solution?  Should we just keep walking?  Dole out dollars and clear your pockets of change with the hope that it will at least get the person something to eat?  Suggest a list of city shelters that may still have beds open for the night?  Tell them that if they really just want a plane ticket home (or anywhere else in the world they may have a couch to crash on), the city will indeed pay for it?

Wait, come again, you’re probably thinking.  I know I sure was.  But it’s true!  Due to the high price of housing the homeless and their families in NYC, the city will pay for one way plane/train/bus tickets anywhere in the world if they can prove they have a relative waiting to take them in on the other side.  This initiative is dubbed Project Reconnect, and was started by Mayor Bloomberg in 2007.

In his first 8 months in office, current Mayor De Blasio has sent 1,412 homeless home…or elsewhere.  According to The New York Times, none of the relocated families have returned to city shelters, which would lead one to believe that this is actually a pretty brilliant use of taxpayer’s dollars…get the homeless out of the streets and shelters, and back to a place they can call home.  Homeless Services spokesman Christopher Miller called the program “a compassionate solution that reunites homeless New Yorkers with their loved ones or other stable housing and employment options.”

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But not everyone views it that way.  Arnold Cohen from the Partnership for the Homeless thinks the whole thing is just another way for the city to pass along its problems.  He states: “The city is engaged in cosmetics. What we’re doing is passing the problem of homelessness to another city. We’re taking people from a shelter bed here to the living room couch of another family.”  My mom, a mental health professional, says back in the day they called this “Greyhound Therapy”…moving the problem from one place to another.

And then you have cynics like Gothamist writer John Del Signore who believes that this initiative will just encourage New Yorkers to “now start posing as transients for one-way tickets to Burning Man.”  Yikes.

I’d love to know…what do you think about plane tickets for the homeless?  Problem solver or creator?  Let’s discuss in the comments below!

4 Comments

  • Maria says:

    Wow! Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle declared a state of emergency in November 2015 due to the high rate of homelessness in Seattle. This means he can open tent cities or RV lots on any city-owned land without the customary permits/debate/etc. The mayor’s office claims it’s researching permanent housing options, and the sooner Mayor Murray can secure permanent housing for people the better, not an easy task in a city without any rent control and accelerated growth. Utah has had some success with their homelessness rates. The state of Utah started setting up each chronically homeless person with his or her own house. Then it got them counseling to help with their demons. Such services, the thinking went, would afford them with safety and security that experts say is necessary to re-acclimate to modern life. Homelessness is stressful. It’s nearly impossible, most experts agree, to get off drugs or battle mental illness while undergoing such travails. It seems to be working well in Utah. Maybe Seattle and NYC will find a similar route…soon.

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much for sharing the success story of Utah, Maria. It’s absolutely inspiring, and I agree–states and cities should look at models where things seem to be working and follow after them as much as possible.

  • jenn says:

    feedback from those who have used this service would be the best data to tell if it’s working or not…. are they happy? are they back on their own feet? are they homeless again? are they able to be contacted or are they off the grid? seems like those of us who can afford housing, have jobs, live relatively joyous lives can judge the system, but if it’s actually improving the lives of those that use it, it’s a cheap, easy way to solve a major issue.

    NYC is a rat race for those of us who ARE successful, let alone someone who doesn’t have education, just came out of jail, lost their family, or has addiction issues. a lot of people probably don’t know HOW to get out of NYC, or don’t know their options, so they’re stuck in this endless circle of homelessness.

    …i feel like if a homeless person thinks that getting out of NYC will improve their lives, why not help them? even if the “problem” is moved somewhere else, that person MIGHT have an easier chance of getting back on their feet in someplace where the cost of living isn’t so crazy high…

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Jenn! I couldn’t agree more–the city is a tough place even for an overly educated person to survive with a job that requires a masters degree…(by the time you factor in rent, transportation, electricity, and food you’re pretty much breaking even–and that’s not even touching other things that may be necessities such as childcare), so it’s really hard to imagine how someone without the same advantages can survive. It would be really interesting to see if the city releases data following up these cases.

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