Hawaii hopes the "return to home" program will help the state save on the millions it spends each year on food, shelter and other services for the homeless.
Hawaii is trying a new approach to cut down on the number of homeless in the Aloha State: Ship some of them back to the mainland.
Under a "return to home" three-year pilot program set to launch this fiscal year, the state will buy one-way tickets on planes — and possible even beds on cruise ships — to return eligible homeless people to their families in the continental U.S.
Lawmakers have appropriated an initial $100,000 to fund the program, which will be run by the state Department of Human Services.
The department has expressed concerns about the program's cost and the nature of services to be provided, among other issues.
"The administrative requirements ... are costly and administratively burdensome," department spokeswoman Kayla Rosenfeld said Tuesday in a statement to MSN News. "Provisions include: transportation to the airport, orientation regarding airport security and ensuring proper hygiene. Additionally, if state funds were utilized for the purpose of sending people home, the participants would be required to sign voluntary departure agreements that would need to be recorded in databases. Given these requirements and others, and a minimal appropriation of $100,000 for a three-year pilot project, providers are understandably reluctant to take on a state-funded return to home program."
"The DHS will continue to dialogue with the community around these issues. At the end of the day, however, we remain concerned this program is an invitation to purchase a one-way ticket to Hawaii with a guaranteed return flight home," Rosenfeld said.
NO SILVER BULLET
The program's supporters said the pilot is not a silver bullet in the fight against homelessness, but will help cut down on the millions the state spends each year on welfare and support services.
"It's fractional, it's not for 5,000 homeless people. It's going to be a handful of homeless people that we send home … to their support unit," state Rep. John Mizuno was quoted as saying by Hawaii News Now.
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Rep. Rida Cabanilla said even if the homeless return after a few months, the state will have saved thousands of dollars on food, shelter and medical costs, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.
Hawaii has an estimated 17,000 homeless people.
The "return to home" program is voluntary. To be eligible, individuals must have a support system in place in their home state and be indigent and unable to fly back on their own. They can only participate once in the program.
Paying to send homeless people away isn't a novel tactic. New York City; San Francisco; Baton Rouge, La.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are among the cities that have offered one-way transport tickets to homeless people.
"These kinds of programs have been used historically to ship homeless people out of town," Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, told MSN News. "In the homelessness field it was once called greyhound therapy. Hawaii now goes a step higher with airplane therapy. Oftentimes local police departments run such programs offering the stark choices of going to a shelter, jail or hopping on a bus or plane home."
"If such programs are truly voluntary and that a home at the other end has been confirmed (not a shelter), this is acceptable," he said. "Some homeless people yearn to be reunited with their loved ones or wish to return to their home community."
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