The best way to grapple with homelessness in Colorado Springs is to swap supportive services and affordable housing for a one-way bus ticket out of town, according to Councilwoman Helen Collins.
“A lot of the homeless, the best way to get rid of the homeless is to give them a bus ticket back to their families,” Collins said earlier this week during a discussion of the city’s plan for housing and homelessness programs. She criticized the city’s efforts to provide housing and stability for homeless people to get back on their feet by saying that those programs hurt other people. “They go into a low income housing area,” Collins said, according to The Gazette, and “drag it down and then they move on to the next new low income housing facility.”
A fellow council member pointed out that housing the homeless is proven to be the most cost-effective way of getting people off of the street, and added that “to give them a home is the first step” in a longer process designed to foster long-term stability and a gradual return to safe, sustainable, and independent living. The city’s proposal for spending federal grant money combating homelessness eventually passed on a 6-3 vote over Collins’ objections.
Such homelessness mitigation efforts have indeed begun to focus more on providing housing than on other forms of aid for the homeless. That is because it costs roughly one third as much to simply put a roof over someone’s head than it does to handle homelessness using the courts, jails, and hospitals. In the best situations, permanent housing for the homeless allows people to put down roots in a community, send their children to schools, and re-enter society after years on the margins. Sometimes even those success stories get sabotaged by policymaker disputes, as in the case of Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood, where dozens of once-homeless residents are set to be forcibly uprooted to a new location on Friday due to a bureaucratic dispute.
The idea of shipping a city’s homeless population out of sight and out of mind isn’t new or unique to Helen Collins or Colorado Springs. Baton Rouge, Louisiana decided to dump its homeless on other cities by buying them one-way bus tickets last summer. (That program was originally called “Clean Sweep,” before its sponsors opted for the shinier “Homeless Outreach Prevention Efforts” or HOPE.) Nevada was sued by San Francisco after a state psychiatric hospital was found to be putting hundreds of indigent people with mental health issues onto buses bound for the bay area. In Hawaii, some lawmakers have even tried to buy plane tickets back to the mainland for homeless people who some public officials believe interfere with the state’s tourism industry.
There is a big difference between helping someone get back to family and friends and shipping someone across a jurisdictional line so they can be somebody else’s problem. As Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless told ThinkProgress’ Scott Keyes last year, bus tickets can be a boon in certain situations “if it’s done for the right reasons and it’s voluntary and people are not being given a choice, ‘go to jail or we can give you a bus ticket.'”