Bloomberg's solution to the homeless problem: a one-way ticket out of New York

Mayor has shelled out for tickets to as far away as Paris and Johannesburg

New York is experimenting with a bold new way to control the newly expanding homeless rolls. While some might call it a variation of the old, discredited, "on yer bike" approach to dealing with folk on welfare, such a description would not be quite accurate. Better call it "on yer airplane", destination Miami, Paris or, indeed, London.

Officials confirm that under a programme launched in 2007 – but so quietly that almost no one outside the administration of the Mayor Michael Bloomberg was aware of it until now – the city has been buying one-way tickets on whatever means of transport is appropriate, jumbo jets included, for homeless families to get out of Gotham.

It is not that that the city is sending them just anywhere, of course. Instead, when families turn up at the homeless shelter intake centre in the Bronx looking for beds, they are now automatically asked if they have friends or relatives anywhere else in the country – or the world – who might be willing to help. If a distant aunt or uncle is found and persuaded to play along, then the city will pony up the cash for the tickets to get them there.

Officials call it win-win for all sides. So far, 550 families have taken advantage of the offer at a cost to the city of $500,000 (£300,000). They have been put on buses, trains and planes (or even given petrol tokens) to 25 different states across the US and to destinations in five continents. Records acquired by The New York Times show that the city has dispatched families to Paris (at a cost of $6,332), Orlando ($858.40) and even Johannesburg ($2,550.70).

All this, of course, is in an effort to relieve the stresses on a homeless system that is already bursting with almost 10,000 families in its care. And if the tickets can sometimes be expensive, defenders of the programme note keeping just one family in homeless shelters can cost the city as much as $36,000. It's cheaper to get rid of them.

"We want to divert as many families as we can that need assistance," said Vida Chavez-Downes, a city official. "We have paid for visas, we've gone down to the consulate, we've provided letters, we've paid for passports for people to go – anyone who comes through our door."

But not everyone is impressed. Critics assert that the city is trying to sustain an illusion that it is dealing with the homelessness problem and that numbers are falling. But by sending people packing, they are not addressing the causes of the crisis, including the continuing dearth of affordable housing in New York City.

"Anywhere but here," is the mentality, Arnold Cohen, head of Partnership for the Homeless, a leading advocacy group, said yesterday. He likened it to a brief period in the 1990s when the city was buying homeless men one-way bus tickets to leave the city. This is the first such programme for whole families, he says.

Mr Cohen says it is flawed, partly because "the city is not doing real analysis as to whether or not when they give a ticket out of the city to another town – you know, it may be London, right? – they don't know if those offers from relations indeed are sustainable and real. In a short time, those folks can fall in homelessness again and become a burden on that municipality or they might come back to this city".

But if those singled out for this treatment are happy, who can blame them? "I feel very happy because I'm going to be able to get back to do the things that I know how to do," said Hector Correa, headed back home to Puerto Rico.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week