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Commentary by Rev. Bruce Ray

Various news sources have been reporting today on a new program in Hawaii–the “Aloha State”.  They are ready to say “good-bye” to  many people who have no homes, helping them relocate to the mainland US by providing a one-way plane ticket.  Called “Return To Home,” the program is expected to relocate several hundred people over the next 3 years.  

Hawaii is not the first government to propose relocation.  New York City spent $500,000 from 2007 – 2009 in a program called “Project Reconnect” to move people out of the city.  San Francisco’s “Homeward Bound” programs offers funds to low-income residents to move.  Ft. Lauderdale, FL, recently approved their own program, “the Homeless Reunification Program.”  

While these programs sound warm and appear compassionate and helpful, it raises questions about how we treat people who live on the streets and puts the spotlight on the efforts of governments to reduce their homeless populations.  Why all this emphasis on relocation?  Is it a desire to see people reconnect to their families and communities or is it economics?  People without housing use city and state services that cost tax payers money.  Reduce the homeless population and you reduce costs.  And with governments tightening their belts, relocation programs are cheaper than providing the services.  According to Michael Stoops, the director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, relocation programs “have been used historically to ship homeless people out of town.”

We never address the underlying issues that cause many people to be displaced from their homes in the first place–loss of jobs, low wages, increased rent.  We cut mental health services. We refuse to raise the minimum wage,  We eliminate public housing.  We divert TIF funds away from their original purpose which was building affordable housing.   A full 17% of those who are homeless work full time jobs!  They are without a home because they cannot afford a home.  The answer to reducing homelessness is NOT relocation.  The answer is jobs, living wages and affordable housing options.  

Jesus reminds us that how we treat the most vulnerable is an indication of how we treat him.  We have to do better than relocation.

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