Being Homeless in This City Will Get You a One-Way Bus Ticket out of Town

In response to public pressure, Sarasota, Fla., plans to send away folks sleeping on the streets.

(Photo: Charlotte Steeples/Getty Images)

Sep 8, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Homeless people aren’t welcome in Sarasota, Fla. At least, that appears to be the message being sent by the town’s city council. Last week officials gave the green light to a program that will purchase a one-way bus ticket out of town for some of the 250 individuals living on the streets.

“The [homeless people] have been a nuisance at night,” store manager Brian Kins told ABC Action News. “Sleeping on the sidewalk in front of our door. Really panhandling a lot of customers.”

Residents began circulating a petition earlier this summer asking the city to “solve the rampant homeless problem in downtown Sarasota.” Lawmakers then voted in favor of putting $1,000 in a Homeward Bound Fund. That isn’t enough to buy a bus ticket for every person without a roof over his or her head. However, private citizens have added at least $2,000 more to the city’s get-out-of-town kitty.

“We don’t just want to send people away,” Calvin Collins, of local advocacy organization Homeless Outreach Team, told the news station. “We want to prepare people to go to their community and thrive and become a good citizen.”

The Homeward Bound Fund assumes that a homeless individual has family, friends, or a network of support in some other place.

The program will buy tickets only “where the local homeless outreach team has funding to return people to their home communities and their families when there is a recipient on the other end willing to meet them,” Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin told WWSB-TV.

In contrast, other cities are tackling the root causes of living on the street: joblessness, mental health challenges, and addiction. Instead of kicking folks out of town, Charlotte, N.C., built an 85-unit complex specifically for the homeless that saved that city $1.8 million in 2013.

Sarasota is not the first to attempt to solve its homeless problem by simply shipping people out. In 2011, spring break hot spot Fort Lauderdale, Fla, came under fire for a similar plan. In 2013, San Francisco sued Nevada for allegedly giving low-income and homeless public hospital patients one-way bus tickets to town.

“Sounds like putting a Band-Aid on a bigger, deeper issue,” local resident Catherine Miller said to ABC Action News about the Sarasota plan. “It just displaces them because you feel more comfortable.”