Ticket Home has been touted as a win-win: It offers free travel to homeless people who have a home somewhere else, and reunites them with loved ones while getting them off of Portland’s streets.
Portland has a massive homeless crisis, with more than 3,800 people sleeping outside or in shelters every night. Another 12,000 are doubled up in someone else's home. Homeless camps crowd the downtown core. With Ticket Home, hundreds of homeless people can leave the city each year, freeing up shelter space and services for other people. It’s not the answer to solving Portland’s homeless problem, but it makes a dent.
“I think the program is a success,” said Denis Theriault, spokesman for Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services, which funds the program. “People come to us. They want help. They don’t want to be stuck in Portland. They don’t want to be using our services here. They want to go somewhere else; they want to be with relatives. We are going to make that happen for them.”
The city and county together budgeted $200,000 for the first full year of the program – a small percentage of the joint office’s $44 million budget. Overall, Theriault says, the joint office and its partners placed 4,600 homeless people into permanent housing last year.
Ticket Home is administered by the homeless service agency 211info, which takes the calls then subcontracts with Transition Projects to actually purchase and distribute the tickets. In addition to paying for tickets, the program also gives people a $20 per day stipend and sometimes purchases items such as luggage or clothing.
Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, 275 people received bus, train or plane tickets through Ticket Home. A pilot program in May and June 2016 got $30,000 and gave 53 homeless people tickets out of Portland.
The ticket recipients ended up in cities across the country, from Alaska to New Hampshire. Twelve individuals or families received tickets to other Oregon towns. The most popular destinations by far were in California, with at least 40 people shipped to that state.
Portland is not the first city to bus people out and the city’s been on the receiving end of other bus programs. New York has given homeless people one-way tickets to destinations across the globe. Portland’s program is modeled after San Francisco’s Homeward Bound, which has shipped nearly 10,000 people out of the city since 2005. More than 450 homeless people from San Francisco were sent to Oregon.
Like San Francisco and New York’s programs, Portland’s Ticket Home requires that a homeless person has a place to live, and that program staff call the individual who is providing housing to the homeless person before they give out a ticket. Portland also follows up three months later, something that doesn’t happen in San Francisco or New York.
For many, Ticket Home literally offered a ticket for a better life. One couple who received $400 for gas told Ticket Home staff, “If it wasn’t for your program we never would have made it home.”
A pregnant mother was granted tickets so she, her boyfriend and their three children could move in with her father in Arizona.
“This mother stated that her father had never met any of her children and that her relocation to Phoenix would give him a chance to bond with his grandchildren and to be present for the birth of the new baby,” a staff member wrote. “The warm thanks and genuine hugs received from clients has affirmed that this program is a blessing to people who had given up on ever possibly getting off the streets or seeing family members again.”
But records show not every bus ticket results in a happy reunion.