Hawaii is giving its 17,000-strong population of homeless people a one-way ticket off the islands.
It sounds a lot crueler than it actually is.
Lawmakers in the state have decided to deal with its cash-strapped welfare program by giving the homeless an opportunity to return to their home states and, hopefully, families who can help.
It's called the "return-to-home" program, which mirrors a similar (and equally controversial) plan implemented by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007.
Hawaii lawmakers have allotted $100,000 per year to their iteration, which has been green-lit for a three-year trial run.
"It’s a controversial idea. Critics point to potential abuse of the program and view it as a Band-Aid approach to a deeply rooted problem," writes Nathan Eagle of the Honolulu Civil Beat. "But supporters see it as a win-win. The homeless get a fresh start in a supportive environment and the state can focus its limited funding on local residents."
No doubt it will be a difficult program to implement. Each person would have to pass a background check and likely would need help to secure proper identification for travel. And there's a strange part of the law that requires them to have "sufficient personal hygiene."
It doesn't help that the state's Department of Human Services, which will be charged with operating the program, isn't 100% behind it.
"The DHS will continue to dialogue with the community around these issues," Kayla Rosenfeld, the department's spokeswoman, told the Civil Beat. "At the end of the day, however, we remain concerned this program is an invitation to purchase a one-way ticket to Hawaii with a guaranteed return flight home."
The bill was backed by several legislators, including State Rep. John Mizuno (D), who told the Huffington Post it wasn't meant to be a "silver bullet."
"It's fractional, it's not for 5,000 homeless people," he said. "It's going to be a handful of homeless people that we send home, again – home to their support unit."
Once underway, it could help about 100 homeless people return home per year, Mizuno estimated.
Also packaged in the bill was increased funding for substance abuse treatment, mental health support, and housing for addicts.
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