Hawaii exports its homeless problem to mainland US

When tourists arrive in Hawaii, they're greeted with flowery necklaces and cries of "Aloha!". But when those people turn out to be down-and-outs, the warm island welcome swiftly disappears.

Politicians in Honolulu, whose economy now revolves squarely around the tourist trade, are considering legislation that would see thousands of the city's homeless offered free one-way plane tickets back to their home states.

Supporters of the scheme say an increased number of people have begun sleeping rough in Hawaii during the recent recession. Many of them are from other parts of America, attracted by the warm climate.

There were 4,171 homeless people on Oahu, the most populated island, in January this year, an increase of 15 per cent in the past 12 months. Dozens sleep rough in popular tourist locations.

Lawmakers hope that recent arrivals can be persuaded to volunteer for the free ticket back to whence they came. "This will lead to two things," Senator John Mizuno, the plan's most prominent supporter, told a local television station. "Family reunification, and [saving] the state's finite resources for local homeless residents."

A ticket home will cost Hawaii about $350 (£230). By contrast, providing public services for a single homeless person runs to an estimated $35,000 a year. Not everyone supports the proposed scheme, though. It is opposed by airlines – who do not want paying customers forced to sit next to people who receive the free tickets – and most homeless charities. "We're not solving the problem," Doran Porter of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance told the Honolulu Star newspaper. "We're just going to be shuffling people from one spot to the other."