Hawaii Offers 17,000 Homeless One-Way Tickets To Mainland In $100K ‘Return To Home’ Program [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on July 31, 2013 12:02 PM EDT

hawaii homeless
A homeless program in Hawaii will send homeless residents to the U.S. mainland. (Photo: Reuters)

A Hawaii homeless program offers residents one-way tickets to the U.S. mainland. The program, run by the state's Department of Human Services, is dubbed the "Return to Home" initiative. It allocates $100,000 to pay for homeless residents to fly to the continental U.S.

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According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, it costs Hawaii taxpayers about $11 million a year to run 35 local homeless housing and service programs -- services that homeless residents desperately need.

"The evidence is clear that every dollar we spend on those programs that help find a stable home for our homeless neighbors not only saves money but quite literally saves lives," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in March.  "We know these programs work and we know these grants can mean the difference between homeless persons and families finding stable housing or living on our streets."

But the government wouldn't offer one-way tickets off the island if they didn't think it could ease some of the pressure on its yearly budget. The new return to home initiative is a way for Hawaii to cut back on its expenditures currently going to food, shelter and other services for homeless people.

Critics say, however, that the Hawaii homeless program is the government's way of shirking its responsibilities. Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, a national network of people dedicated to ending homelessness in the U.S., told MSN News:

"These kinds of programs have been used historically to ship homeless people out of town. 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."

Anyone who wants to take advantage of the return to home program has to provide a sworn statement saying he is leaving the state voluntarily. Also, he can only participate in the program once.

Those who accept the offer will be transported to the airport, given an orientation regarding airport security and an opportunity to get cleaned up before their departure.  

Hawaii has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the U.S. According to Think Progress, there aren't a lot of affordable housing options on the island, and it's not an easy state to leave.  

Proponents of the return to home program trumpet its advantages of allowing homeless people who live in Hawaii but have family or other opportunities on the mainland to be able to move.

Hawaii's government isn't the first to initiate a return to home program. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Baton Rouge have all offered voluntary get-out-of-town initiatives.

But, some say there's a blurry line between voluntary and involuntary, and that the program is often used to coerce people into leaving the city. "When a homeless person has a run-in with the law, they are often presented with a choice: go to jail or 'volunteer' for a one-way ticket," Scott Keyes for Think Progress notes.

Read more from iScience Times:

Tropical Storm Flossie Weakens: Is Hawaii Spared? [FORECAST, VIDEO]

Hawaii Earthquake: 5.3 Quake Strikes 'Big Island' Just Days After One Rattled Taiwan Causing Tsunami Fears [REPORT]

New Sex Superbug In Hawaii: Why Is Gonorrhea H041 Said To Be More Dangerous Than AIDS?

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