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Homeless offered free airfare to leave

July 29, 2009 3:11:48 PM PDT
For many of New York's homeless, it is an attractive offer -- a one-way ticket out of the city. It's part of a Bloomberg administration program to keep the homeless out of the expensive shelter system, which costs $36,000 a year per family.

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Theresa Small Smith from Los Angeles is homeless in New York City and intrigued by the idea.

"Well, I'm hoping to get my own house and I hope my parents are there when I do get there, yes," she said.

Mayor Bloomberg defended the program on Wednesday saying it's a heck of a lot cheaper for city hall to buy a one-way ticket (on average 218-dollars) versus providing an apartment. Per year? That is costs 36-thousand dollars.

"And given the cost of providing shelter for a family this saves taxpayers of New York an enormous amount of money and, keep in mind, nobody's forcing these people to go. They want to go," he said.

Since 2007, the city has helped 564 families go elsewhere. Most went to Puerto Rico, the Carolinas, but in one case the city spent six-thousand dollars flying one family to Paris.

"It's all part of the same fabric, the same effort to try to shrink, artificially, the population," argued Arnold Cohen of the Partnership for the Homeless.

Cohen blames politics as motivation for the one-way ticket home program. Anything to reduce the near-record number of homeless in New York, he said. He also questions whether the homeless are really getting help.

"All we're really doing is arguably shifting the problem to another municipality," Cohen said.

But city officials said they don't just willy-nilly fly people all over the world. They check up on what's waiting back home.

"We identify outside New York City resources that they have so that they will be going to their own apartment, going to live with a family, or going to a friend. They are going to a home," Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said.

City officials say none of the relocated families have returned to city shelters.


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