San Francisco May Bus Homeless People Out of Town Instead of Providing Shelter

Bussing homeless people out of San Francisco

According to a proposed plan, people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco could soon be given a one-way bus ticket to shelter in another city.

The idea is part of San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan’s “Equitable Recovery Plan,” which aims to address San Francisco’s looming economic troubles with social goals such as reducing homelessness and addressing the city’s high cost of childcare. San Francisco is also facing an estimated $728 million budget shortfall at a time when the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing estimates it will cost more than $1.4 billion to build enough housing units to move the more than 7,500 people sleeping on the streets into shelters.

“If they say they want to wait to receive housing in San Francisco, of course, we’re going to do whatever we can to help them,” Chan told The San Francisco Standard. “But it’s not compassion for them to be left out on the streets.”

Chan’s plan calls for greater cooperation between the nine Bay Area counties surrounding San Francisco to resolve homelessness. This approach would require “a network of shared county resources, shared county data, and coordination with local health care systems, including but not limited to providing shelter and health care facilities beyond city boundaries,” according to the plan.

Chan told The San Francisco Standard she plans to discuss the proposal with “responsible agencies” as the city finalizes its next budget.

Bussing Homeless People to Shelter is Unpopular in Other Cities

Other places, like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Douglas County, Colorado, adopted similar strategies following the pandemic to connect people experiencing homelessness with shelter and services as rates of unsheltered homelessness increase nationwide. However, the plans met pushback from local leaders and homeless advocates alike.

In November 2022, Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda started requiring homeless people that went to jail for trespassing or other crimes to take a bus to Salt Lake City, Utah, as part of their release orders. Lt. Russ Ruschill of the Jackson Police Department said the goal is to improve public safety.

“Salt Lake City has more resources down there. The Greyhound runs out of Salt Lake,” Ruschill told the Casper Star Tribune. “We have no bus service here other than SLC, and the Salt Lake Express is cheap.”

Homeless advocates like Wren Fialka, founder of the nonprofit service provider Spread The Love Commission, said the plan was cruel because Salt Lake City performs “sweeps,” where police officers and sanitation workers throw away the belongings of homeless people and force them to move.

“They’ll get their IDs taken, their money, their shoes, really all of their essential belongings,” Fialka said. “Sweeps and shipping people to different places doesn’t work. If we’re not treating them like humans, it’s not a solution.”

Douglas County, Colorado, began bussing its homeless to nearby counties in June 2022. The plan received bipartisan pushback from nearby officials like Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat, and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, a Republican.

“I think this is dumping,” Coffman said. “This is just dumping pure and simple, and I quite frankly think that ought to be illegal.”

Connecting Homeless People to Family or Caretakers May Be a Better Solution

The approach that San Francisco is considering is also different than other homeless relocation programs such as Homeward Bound. The program is voluntary and aims to connect people experiencing homelessness with family members or caretakers who live in another city. 

San Francisco had a stand-alone Homeward Bound program until June 1, 2022, according to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The program is now a part of the Department’s coordinated entry system.

Spokane, Washington, implemented a Homeward Bound program with help from the Volunteers of America in May 2022. Rae-Lynn Barden, the VOA’s marketing director, told local news station KREM2 that the program could help eliminate moving costs that “can limit a person’s potential for success.”

“It can be a couple of hundred dollars to a thousand dollars when you think about a rental deposit; some people need a utility deposit, and then that transportation cost to get them set up in a new town,” Barden told KREM2. “And then things to make your apartment successful for you, so it adds up very quickly.”

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the US. It also showed that aid programs work when providing agencies and service organizations with sufficient funds and clear guidance on spending aid dollars.

Contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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