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Is relocating homeless people a life line or broken system?

While cities across the country have for three decades relocated homeless people by giving them free, one-way tickets out of town, there has never been an analysis of the national impact. Over 18 months, The Guardian investigated more than 20,000 of these trips, painting a comprehensive picture of the effects. Alastair Gee, who edited the story, joins Hari Sreenivasan from San Francisco.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    On Thursday, in cities across the nation, people gathered to mark 'National Homeless Persons Memorial Day' to honor those who died in 2017 and to call attention to America's ongoing homelessness problem. For decades cities have been dealing with their homeless populations by simply giving them a bus ticket and sending them out of town. However, what happens to the homeless once they reach the end of the line has rarely been documented. But this week The Guardian published the results of an 18 month investigation called bust out analyzing more than 34,000 such bus trips. Joining me now from San Francisco is the editor of the story Alastair Gee who's the homelessness editor for The Guardian. Thanks for joining us. First of all, what's the summary, what's the thing that you found that was most interesting?

  • ALASTAIR GEE:

    Well we went into this knowing that cities say that these programs are a way of resolving homelessness and their official reports actually say that these bus programs are an 'exit from homelessness' and so we wanted to find out if that was actually the case. And we found a much more mixed picture as the top line summary from cities We found that sure, in some cases this was a great solution for some people. They ended up reconnecting with family, with friends and finding stability. Others, we found, had simply disappeared. Their relatives have no more contact with them or they had simply continued being homeless in a different city.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of your data visualizations shows it's almost like musical chairs that people were being shuttled back and forth across the country. And you also you found out that here in New York they're actually buying, in certain cases, plane tickets. Tell us about that.

  • ALASTAIR GEE:

    That was one of the by far the more interesting things that we found in this database. Dozens of records requests to cities around the country and New York was really idiosyncratic in the sense that. Around 600 people were being sent on sometimes expensive plane journeys across the world. The longest journey we found from New York was a homeless person traveling to Wellington New Zealand of all places. And it also sent around 2500 people back by plane to Puerto Rico. And so yeah if you wanted to if you wanted to find the most exotic list of destinations you would definitely look at New York.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You also started and kind of ended your story with an individual that was leaving San Francisco. Tell us about them.

  • ALASTAIR GEE:

    Quinn was a guy that I met outside San Francisco's Homeward Bound office in the summer. He's a young guy, 27 years old, originally from Indianapolis. And he had been homeless just through a series of what I would of what I took to be just unlucky circumstances. He had an early drug conviction that derailed his plans of going into the military which had been his dream. And so he had ended up several years later and homeless in several western towns feuding San Francisco and so he was hoping to go back to his hometown of Indianapolis just because he had been exhausted and tired from homeless life in San Francisco and I saw him he looked physically tired. And so I saw him off at the bus station and then a couple of weeks later I spoke to him on the phone and things weren't going so well in Indianapolis. And then almost about a month later after he left. I spoke to him and he said I'm on a bus back to San Francisco. Things didn't work out in Indianapolis. My friend entered a drug addiction program the friend that I was staying with and I just have no wife to say I was homeless again there and so today Quinn's situation is is almost exactly the same as it was before he took the bus. He's dragging around the suitcase on broken wheels. He's trying to find poles for a tent that he found to sleep in and he's living back in San Francisco in almost exactly the same location as he was before he took the ticket.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Alright, Alastair Gee, the homelessness editor for The Guardian joining us from San Francisco today. Thanks so much

  • ALASTAIR GEE:

    Thank you Hari.

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