Searching for proof of homeless relocation programs?
February 8, 2024 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Anti-homeless folks like to cite that other muncipalities like to bus their homeless to other muncipalities, but unless my search skills are failing me, I can find no concrete proof of this. How could I find proof that this is happening instead of hearsay?

FWIW, I'm in Ontario, Canada. I would guess that these "bus tickets" would be taxpayer-funded. If so, wouldn't that be public record? Thanks y'all!
posted by Kitteh to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes it's public record, like Project Going Home. Sometimes cops would just walk someone to the bus station and buy the ticket out of pocket or as a petty cash expense. There isn't just a single way it happens, but a lot of the ways don't leave a record by design.
posted by Jairus at 12:18 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you're asking about Canada specifically, but it is a thing in the United States.
posted by saeculorum at 12:18 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

Every once in awhile you hear sporadic reports of it happening, but I'm not sure it's ever systemic. Example.

Most public agencies don't publicly report their expenses at the level of detail it would take to see whether there were a few bus tickets included.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:18 PM on February 8

Response by poster: I'm not sure if you're asking about Canada specifically, but it is a thing in the United States.

I mention I am in Canada below the fold.
posted by Kitteh at 12:27 PM on February 8

I mention I am in Canada below the fold.

Which is why saeculorum isn't sure if you're asking about Canada specifically.
posted by jdroth at 12:29 PM on February 8 [19 favorites]

Sometimes cops would just walk someone to the bus station and buy the ticket out of pocket or as a petty cash expense.

I believe the OP is seeking concrete evidence that this happens, eg a first person account.
posted by hoyland at 12:31 PM on February 8

Response by poster: Sorry, one last thing: I feel like a lot of this rhetoric is FOAF "feelings not facts" crowd. So I would like concrete data that this actually occurs at the level it has been cited.

And I will happily take proof of this happening elsewhere in Canada!
posted by Kitteh at 12:35 PM on February 8

Best answer: If you can't find concrete proof, you could try asking for it - literally - by raising Freedom of Information requests with the relevant police and/or municipal authorities?

I'd raise separate requests: one asking for any policy related to moving homeless people to other municipalities, and another asking for any information (regardless of the response to the policy question) about incidents where homeless people have been moved to another municipality. In both requests I'd ask for any and all statistics they have on such incidents.
posted by underclocked at 12:42 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, I can say my sister and BIL were homeless and on welfare in Calgary and got bus tickets from the welfare office to go to our parents in Ontario.

I am close to you and the agencies I work with do provide transportation to nearby communities if the person is offered a place to stay (so again, usually adult children going to relatives that have confirmed they will provide housing).

I also know one local agency where the Executive Director flat out told me that (instead of fulfilling their funded mandate) they sent people from our smaller community to larger ones (including Kingston) with explicit directions to clients to call their local agencies from a pay phone and tell them they are from Kingston (or whatever city they are in) in order to access services.

For the most part, local agencies are focused on serving their communities and there is recognition that people move between jurisdictions and it should not limit their access to services.
posted by saucysault at 12:42 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]

Every once in awhile you hear sporadic reports of it happening, but I'm not sure it's ever systemic.

It's systemic.
posted by mhoye at 12:43 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

This article is from CTV regarding allegations from the Deputy Mayor for London, Ontario.

But it's still pretty short on facts, making vague references to municipal data and some anonymized first hand accounts, but not really giving anything concrete.

Edit: posted this before I saw readinghippo's excellent resource above.
posted by eekernohan at 12:51 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

For context I have some direct work with the homeless population in Chicago for years and years. This does happen. It doesn't happen with alarming regularity but occasionally somebody will show up where I work with a story along the lines of I got a ticket and I was told there would be services here.

It's kind of complicated to track, there is a subset of the homeless population that has lots of movement that's volitional, there is a subset of the homeless population with severe behavioral health concerns who are fairly poor historians about exactly where they have come from and then there is the choas of a service system that is split into thousands and thousands of non profits, government, medical and municipal services providing bits and pieces of care. Any one of these may end up providing some sort of funding for travel some reason or another.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:00 PM on February 8 [6 favorites]

This article is anecdotal, but it does seem to be indicative of a real issue that municipalities outside of Toronto are struggling with. I'm sure I've seen city and regional estimates of the numbers, but I can't put my finger on them at the moment.
posted by sardonyx at 1:29 PM on February 8

The (ethically kind of icky) mayor of Kamloops has said that he is going to do that and has tried to get funding for it. That same article mentions that community service organizations have received phone calls from people in other jurisdictions putting homeless people on buses to Kamloops to access services in that city.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:38 PM on February 8

There have been lots of incidents of various countries forcing homeless people out of the city areas that the country was expecting tourists to go to just before the Olympic Games was happening in that country.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 2:57 PM on February 8

During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver this was definitely rumoured to be happening, but my quick google shows more articles deeming this was a myth and not policy. However I did find this during my googling (from way back in 2016) Saskatchewan buys 1-way bus tickets to B.C. for homeless men
posted by cgg at 4:01 PM on February 8

I remember hearing that Ralph Klein, who was the Alberta premier at one time, once offered one way bus tickets in Calgary before the 1988 winter Olympics, but I think it was more of a statement than an actioned plan.

this article has evidence of two people being bussed from Saskatchewan to Van/Vic but other than the evidenced two, the rest is a reporting of rumours mostly it seems
posted by euphoria066 at 4:06 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Many non-profits work with homeless or marginally housed people and give out bus tickets. Each agency would likely track and report how many bus tickets were given out, or at least what dollar amount was spent on transportation including bus tickets, but they are unlikely to have tracked and reported to a funder where the person was going with that ticket and for what purpose, ie maybe they were moving for a job three hours away, or maybe they were moving in with their cousin in another city, or maybe they just needed to get away from triggers in this community. Knowing that there are people coming into the community from other areas is very much anecdotal and it's happening in every community. People from Toronto migrate out to Durham and Peel and York and beyond, and people from those areas move into Toronto. There is no granular tracking of this movement that I've ever heard about and I was in this line of work for a long time.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:55 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

I thought I remembered a Seattle reporter doing a proper shoe-leather report on where the homeless in Seattle and its outlying regions and small towns in the state were "from" -- and also where people in S, o.r., s.t. thought they were from. Can't find it.
posted by clew at 4:55 PM on February 8

I would start looking in NYC. I worked in homeless services in NYC: New York has a right-to-shelter that requires them to house homeless if they can't find somewhere else to put them or other relatives they can send them to. That means, as I recall from about ten years ago, that they pretty aggressively ask new entrants for the addresses of relatives, and provide transportation outside the city for those who have relatives outside the city. There is likely to be budgetary documentation of that. No clue about Canada though.
posted by corb at 5:54 PM on February 8

One of our local cities sued the county over this issue, and they have data showing it happens.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:06 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Two places I have lived have tried something similar. Anchorage, AK recently sent some people home to families out of state. Arcata, CA also will bus you home if you can prove that you have someone waiting for you. This is different from undifferentiated busing out-- in these cases, they try to send people who do actually have a place to go and people who will help them elsewhere.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:36 PM on February 8

The Guardian, Dec. 20, 2017 report: How America moves its homeless. [Video at PBS SoCal]. Each year, US cities give thousands of homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town. In an 18-month investigation, the Guardian has conducted the first detailed analysis of America’s homeless relocation programs, compiling a database of around 34,240 journeys and analyzing their effect on cities and people.

New York appears to have been the first major city to begin a relocation program for homeless people, back in 1987. After the current iteration of the program was relaunched during the tenure of mayor Michael Bloomberg, it ballooned, and its relocation scheme is now far larger than any other in the nation. The city homelessness department budgets $500,000 for it annually. Almost half the approximately 34,000 journeys analyzed by the Guardian originate from New York. In contrast with other relocation initiatives, New York is notable for moving large numbers of families, like the Ortizes.

2023: NYC's $25 million "Migrant Relocation Assistance Program."

Wikipedia's List of homeless relocation programs in the United States, examples by state
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:10 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

Best answer: IMO these articles are kind of weak. Do cities provide bus tickets for homeless people is a question. I think they answer that.

However, when most people think 'bussing homeless people', they don't think "send them back to their family, mostly at their request/behest", but rather "send them from a city that doesn't want to deal with them out west, or back east", with the destination city sort of picked out of malice or randomly.

These articles don't represent indications of that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:16 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: However, when most people think 'bussing homeless people', they don't think "send them back to their family, mostly at their request/behest", but rather "send them from a city that doesn't want to deal with them out west, or back east", with the destination city sort of picked out of malice or randomly.

Exactly. That is the info I was seeking as many people believe that this is being done out of malice without proof that this is the case. I definitely have considered it can be a case by case basis for agencies, which is fine and is apparently not very trackable. This question mostly about having reliable data to push back on the anti-homeless rhetoric I hear in my community.
posted by Kitteh at 7:55 AM on February 9

I always tell people that yes there are probably homeless people from elsewhere moving here. But there are also homeless people from here moving elsewhere. Everyone is just trying to make a go of it somewhere.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:12 PM on February 9

I asked on reddit because it comes up in Portland, ME, often, and many assert that other towns in Maine and New Hampshire do this.
posted by theora55 at 1:44 PM on February 9

I used to manage a program that contracted with the City of Seattle to help people return to stable living situations via bus or plane if they were experiencing homelessness in Seattle. We vetted each "Diversion" down to planning who would pick them up from the bus station, if they needed money for food or bills for the first couple of months etc. Statistically there was no measurable impact on the homeless population but for a small group of a few hundred people a year there was an ethical and audited process for getting people back to what were (hopefully) stable living situations.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:45 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Homeless in N.B. shuffled from one community to another with one-way bus tickets (CTV, 2020) Outreach workers in the city say clients have been arriving in the city on one-way bus tickets unannounced, paid for by New Brunswick's Department of Social Development.

London, Ontario, Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis, 2023 letter: We accept and respect that those experiencing homelessness, including individuals in London, will move from community to community of their own volition and for a variety of reasons. What we must not accept, and what must be addressed, are those who are moved to London under false pretenses or against their will. This is no longer the subject of conjecture.

During the first six months of 2023, City of London staff has successfully diverted 319 individuals back to communities where they have a natural support network after having arrived in London seeking supports. That is how a compassionate system should function. However, of those 319 individuals, over 25% were sent here against their will, or under false pretenses, by various individuals and organizations from outside London.
[CBC coverage]

I think it happens, but not near as often as anti-homeless rhetoric makes it seem? Maybe you're not looking at agencies and voluntary disclosure, or anecdata, but state-run facilities and legal action? US example where brief, involuntary hospitalizations led to relocations: In Nevada, unhoused people at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital were given 'Greyhound Therapy' (2018), (2016), (2019).
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:46 PM on February 9

It's not necessarily being done as an official government project. When I lived in Manchester NH, a private citizen went through the park in the fall and offered to buy bus tickets south for anyone who wanted to leave before winter.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:36 PM on February 9

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