Economy

San Diego Considers Giving The Homeless One-Way Bus Tickets Out Of Town

CREDIT: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The Port of San Diego is weighing a new proposal for how to handle its homeless residents: send them somewhere else.

Commissioners for the Port of San Diego, a self-supporting public benefit corporation that governs the port area of San Diego, considered a plan on Tuesday to fund one-way bus tickets for homeless people living along the bay.

A recent survey found 8,506 homeless people living in San Diego County, nearly half of whom were not in a shelter. An August count found more than 900 homeless people living near the San Diego Bay.

Though supporters framed the proposal as a win-win — homeless people would theoretically go somewhere else where they have family or a support network, and the Port of San Diego would be absolved of helping its struggling residents — this kind of plan is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the plan is based on the premise that homeless people in San Diego aren’t from San Diego. That’s unlikely to be true for many — this chart of San Diego’s housing prices shows the median home is worth more than $500,000, which makes the cost of housing in the city out of reach for many residents. Giving them a bus ticket won’t do them much good.

Free bus tickets for those homeless people who do want to leave town because they will have more opportunities could be beneficial. The key factor, though, is who’s making the decision. If it’s homeless people who themselves want to move elsewhere, but simply lack the funds to get there, such a program would be quite helpful. But that’s not usually how these programs operate. More often, they’re thinly veiled efforts to decrease the homeless population by sending them elsewhere. Often times, if a homeless person is cited because he asked someone for money or sat down on the sidewalk, the police or the courts will give him a choice: go to jail or accept a one-way bus ticket out of town.

It’s also important to note what’s not being proposed in San Diego: increased funding for homeless services. Rather than trying to absolve itself of responsibility for its homeless population, the Port of San Diego could instead devote more funding to services that have been proven, in a cost-effective way, to help homeless people lift themselves up, such as housing first, health services, and job training.

Commissioners ultimately decided not to act on the plan Tuesday, delaying consideration until further research could be done. If the proposal eventually passes, the Port of San Diego will join a growing list of places that offer homeless people one-way tickets out of town, including Baton Rouge, New York City, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, and Hawaii.