Homeless people in Hawaii wishing to return to their families on the mainland will soon be able to turn to the state for financial help with the journey, when a hotly debated program launches later this year.
State legislators have organized a three-year "Return to Home" pilot program, which will have a $100,000 annual budget. Supporters of the effort, which will begin next fiscal year, touted it as a move that would serve the dual purposes of aiding the state's 17,000 homeless people and reducing the burden they put on the state's infrastructure. The bill to which the measure was attached also included funding for substance abuse treatment, mental health programs, and clean and sober housing, as well as various rental and housing assistance programs.
Some members of Hawaii's Department of Human Services, which will be tasked with managing the "Return to Home" experiment, have expressed concerns about potential abuse.
"At the end of the day, however, we remain concerned this program is an invitation to purchase a one-way ticket to Hawaii with a guaranteed return flight home," Kayla Rosenfeld, the department's spokeswoman, said in a statement Monday, according to Honolulu Civil Beat.
State Rep. John Mizuno (D), a sponsor of the legislation, told Hawaii News Now that "Return to Home" wouldn't be a "silver bullet," but could help certain individuals with options for a more concrete living situation elsewhere.
"It's fractional, it's not for 5,000 homeless people. It's going to be a handful of homeless people that we send home, again -- home to their support unit," he said.
Mizuno predicted that the program as structured could help send as many as 100 people back to the mainland each year.
Programs to transport homeless people have been used in other places around country. Perhaps most famously, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg implemented a program that gave hundreds of homeless families one-way tickets to relocate.