Sunday, April 01, 2007

Homeless to Get One-Way Ticket out of Gainesville:

A one-way bus ticket out of town is a recommendation that has
long been associated with those who argue that Gainesville does too much for
its homeless population.

But some of Gainesville's most ardent homeless advocates are now lining up
behind a plan that does just that, with the intention of reuniting the
homeless with family or friends elsewhere in the country.

Today, the city and the St. Francis House shelter will launch Homeward
Bound, a program that advocates say will help some of the nearly 1,000
homeless people in Alachua County find the supportive environments they need
to get back on their feet.

"Its not just a bus ticket out of town," Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan
said. "It's trying to reconnect people to the places and people that have
the resources to get them back on their feet."

Through the program, which will be funded with $10,000 of city money,
caseworkers at St. Francis House will work with homeless residents who have
been in Alachua County for at least 30 days and who want to go back to
family or friends elsewhere in Florida or the country, said Jim Hencin,
Gainesville's block grant manager and one of the city officials most
involved in homeless issues.

Once someone has agreed to help the homeless resident, the caseworker will
buy a bus ticket, take the participant to the station and make sure they get
on the bus, Hencin said. They will later check up on the residents to make
sure they arrived and to gauge how well the program is working, he said.

"No doubt there will be cynics who say this is another way of sort of
washing your hands of the problem," Hencin said. "But the safeguard here is
that we know they will be linking up with someone else, a family member or
friend on the other end. It's not just, 'Here's your bus ticket and

But the program includes enough safeguards, such as prohibiting residents
who return to Gainesville from using the program again, to make sure the
public's money is being spent wisely, Hencin said.

"This is not intended to be a travel agency to help those who want to move
from community to community," he said. "They need to be going somewhere
where there is a family or friends willing to provide housing. We're not
just moving folks to other communities with no expectation of them being

With nearly 43 percent of the homeless population hailing from other areas,
according to a survey of the homeless last year, homeless service providers
have provided versions of this service for years. Beth O'Grady, coordinator
of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said she
receives four or five requests a month from homeless people who are looking
for help to return home.

Sometimes these residents can find help in the form of donations from
service providers, O'Grady said, but the city's involvement in the program
will provide a sure source of funding.

"We've been doing this for a while and trying to pull together funds for
people who really want to get to family members somewhere else and really
are stranded," O'Grady said.

Hanrahan first proposed the program in June after hearing about a similar
project in San Francisco.

The San Francisco program, also called Homeward Bound, has served more than
1,800 people and met mostly with success, said Dorothy Enisman, program
director of San Francisco's Homeward Bound program. Enisman said a key to
running a successful program was a policy of checking up on residents a
month after their move.

Enisman said the program gets people into a supportive environment that can
help them out of their situation.

New York Times Regional Media Group

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