Back in what many refer to as my misspent youth, I worked as a nurse in a Brooklyn hospital. The hospital was not in the best part of town and the ER saw a lot of homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics… you get the idea, right? So, to achieve a momentary relief from the problem, the hospital had a program the nurses called Greyhound therapy. It was exactly what it sounds like. The powers that be bought patients a one-way ticket on a bus out of town. Pushing the problem off on some other locale was considered an ok thing to do.
The ultimate outcome of the Greyhound Therapy program was that it moved the problem around a board without ever really working to solve it. Once it was someone else’s problem, we could just forget about it.
Greyhound Therapy didn’t work then and, upping it to a plane ticket is no guarantee it will work any better now.
To paraphrase what a great man once said, the homeless will always be with us. So, if we want to address the problem, we probably need to start by accepting the fact that for every homeless person we put on a plane to wherever, there will be another homeless person here who still needs help.
When I worked in Utqiagvik, we were aware of the problem of our residents sometimes getting lost in Anchorage after being sent there for medical reasons. A program was started that would give people who wanted it a ticket back to their village. Oh yeah, and the village had to be, for the most part, in agreement with that person returning. You see, some people are in Anchorage because going home is not a possibility. And some will go home to dry villages and almost immediately want out, or worse, start importing booze into communities that have banned it.
What is missing from Mayor Bronson’s idea of, let’s call it, Alaska Airlines therapy is any checking with the place someone might want to go to assure they are welcome to return.
Offering people a ticket to any city they want in the lower 48 leaves one with the question of how those cities feel about us basically dumping our problems on them. If we don’t want to come up with a reasonable plan to help our homeless population, then let’s just shove that problem down the road to the nearest city that Alaska Airlines flies.
Given that the homeless person can ask for a ticket to anyplace, one has to wonder if many will pick the South Pacific. I mean, why now? Someone else is paying for it, might as well go to someplace warm and exotic. Surely it’s easier to be homeless in Hawaii than Alaska. And warmer too.
The bottom line is that this is just another cop out on the part of a morally bankrupt administration that can’t seem to get anything right. We’ve had years to come up with reasonable plans to help the homeless. And if all we have come winter is the Sullivan Arena, then that’s what we should use again. And if we don’t want to use it, then I suggest this administration gets its head out of its nether regions and understand that this problem is not solved by an updated Greyhound Therapy module.
If a homeless person in Anchorage wants to return to their village – and their village is willing to have them back – then by all means, give them a non-refundable, one-way ticket. But if a person wants to go to Phoenix because they heard it’s a nice place, but they have no support system there or any viable plan to support themselves, then all we are doing is pushing the problem out our door.
A civilized and compassionate community would recognize the homeless for who they are. You know the saying – there but for the grace of God go I. We need to help the homeless by, first and foremost, recognizing their humanity and housing them.
Greyhound therapy is not the answer unless you are so morally bankrupt that you can honestly look at a homeless human being and not feel a tug of recognition and connection. I hope that doesn’t describe Mayor Bronson and his minions.