When her Greyhound bus pulled into town 6 months ago, Maria Castillo got off with two bags and dream.
“Start over, start a new life,” said the 42-year-old.
Castillo had been homeless in San Diego when a social worker offered her a one-way bus ticket to Portland.
“They said come here because all the opportunities in Portland, Oregon,” she said.
But Castillo said life isn’t much better in her new town. She’s still homeless. A Unit 8 investigation found several cities from San Diego to San Francisco are providing one-way bus tickets to the homeless.
“I know it was through the police department. They sent me here,” said James McDonald.
He came to Portland 7 years ago from San Francisco while battling addiction. San Francisco’s Homeward Bound program has paid for one-way bus tickets for more than 5,000 people to travel across the United States as long as there’s someone willing to receive them on the other end.
“I’m sure it saves the city of San Francisco a lot of money,” said McDonald.
It’s not clear how many homeless people have come to Portland on one-way bus tickets. It’s likely just a fraction of the city’s homeless population, estimates city commissioner Dan Saltzman.
“I don’t think police officers are handing out, or social service providers are handing out bus tickets just saying, ‘One way tickets to Portland here. Get out of town’,” Saltzman said.
The homeless are being bused from as far away as Florida. Since 2002, St. Petersburg put 13 different people on buses to Oregon.
“We’re not using Greyhound therapy,” said Jane Walker of Daystar Life Center in St. Petersburg.
Half of the program’s annual $30,000 budget comes from taxpayer county funds.
“We interview them. We talk to the folks they say they are going to live with,” said Walker.
Homeless advocate Ibrahim Mubarak said these programs don’t solve the problem. They just move it from one city to the next.
“They are trying to sweep reality under a carpet,” he said.