An 18-year-old program that offers free bus tickets out of town for unsheltered people to reunite with family is not so well used anymore, but mayoral hopeful Supervisor Ahsha Safai wants to bolster and expand the Homeward Bound initiative.
Back in 2005, then-mayor Gavin Newsom started an initiative called Homeward Bound, which basically offered unhoused people a one-way bus ticket out of town to reunite with friends or family elsewhere (or as or one shelter resident described it to the Examiner in 2016, the “Get your ass out of here” program). Whatever the merits of the idea, no one was ever forced to take the ticket out of town, and nearly 1,000 people a year took the city up on this offer at the program’s peak.
But that dipped down to about 200 or so people per year using Homeward Bound during the pandemic. And it didn't help that Homeward Bound was abruptly ended earlier this year, but then hastily restarted, which obviously created some confusion.
A San Francisco supervisor who’s running for mayor wants to expand the city’s two-decade-old program — Homeward Bound — offering homeless people a fully paid trip back home after the number of people using it dropped precipitously during the pandemic. https://t.co/TupZ6HGbxs— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) November 29, 2023
But at this week’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting District 11 Supervisor and mayoral candidate Ahsha Safai introduced his proposal to widely expand the Homeward Bound program. While the program currently only offers the tickets out of town to those currently unhoused, Safai’s proposal would make the offer available to anyone in the city’s shelter bed or supportive housing system.
“I want to return Homeward Bound to a stand-alone program, make it clear who is in charge, and expand access to more people — including those residents in our permanent supportive housing — so they can reunite with their families,” Safaí told the Chronicle.
It is more than just a bus ticket. There’s also a per diem meal stipend for travel days, and a case worker who follows up with the individual three times over three months.
Safai simply made the announcement at Tuesday’s board meeting; there is no written proposed legislation yet. But Mayor London Breed’s office sees this as more of an effort to promote Safai’s mayoral campaign.
“We can’t comment on the specifics as to what it entails, but we would encourage Supervisor Safaí to work in collaboration towards productive solutions with any relevant departments on this matter,” Breed’s office said in a statement to the Chronicle. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with his proposed legislation to require tax increases to pay for police staffing, he doesn’t always do that.”
And despite whatever stereotypes may exist, most unsheltered people did not “come here to be homeless.” The above graphic from the most recent “homeless census” (a.k.a. The 2022 Point in Time Count) shows that most people lived in SF when they fell into homelessness in SF. But sure, if you expand eligibility, it is likely that more people will use the program.
Thus far, we haven’t seen the brass tacks of how Safai proposes to expand the program. And at the moment, this may just be political marketing for Safai's mayoral campaign.
Image: Dallas, Tx, USA - April 9, 2016: Greyhound buses at the terminal in Dallas downtown. (Getty Images)