San Francisco approves expansion of Homeward Bound program for the unhoused

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
SF approves expansion of Homeward Bound program for the unhoused
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted to expand Homeward Bound which helps unhoused people return home by offering them a bus ticket home.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted to expand an existing program that would help unhoused people return to their communities by offering them a bus ticket home. It will now be another tool in an attempt to reduce the city's homeless population.

The concept of putting people on a bus to reunite with friends and family is not new.

"For less than a few hundred dollars, we give them a ticket, many are from other parts of California and again, it's voluntary," explained Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who proposed the legislation to boost the program.

The program to help the unhoused find their way back home is, and for decades - has been called Homeward Bound.

But Safai proposed revising and rebranding the program after it moved from one city department to another and its numbers went down.

"I mean, last year only 12 people took advantage of Homeward Bound, when in the past they were doing over 1,000, 800 to 1,000 a year." he added.

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The issue has now become a political hotbed. Mark Farrell who is also running for mayor posted on X:

"Mayor Breed let the program wither to a shell of its former self, serving nearly three times fewer people."

But it's well known among nonprofits that the program was hit hard during COVID.

"Homeward Bound slowed down during the pandemic because public transportation wasn't accessible. We weren't about to put people on buses and get them to where they wanted to go," said Lydia Bransten of the Gubbio Project.

Also during the pandemic, the homeless became more isolated and the use of fentanyl escalated dramatically. More people became highly addicted to a drug that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 50 times more potent than heroine.

Toran Relyea moved here from San Luis Obispo and admits his drug problem has kept him away from home.

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"It's hard for me, but I mean I still - it's still not hard not to be with my family, but I definitely would take that opportunity once I better myself and was clean, you know," said Relyea who is 22 years old.

Safai believes the number of the unhoused, voluntarily leaving on buses, will increase because there will now be more oversight.

  • The program will be offered at shelters and supportive housing.
  • Both the unhoused and even those at risk of being homeless are eligible.
  • The data is now collected for the public to see in real-time.
  • "We will be publishing a dashboard on or website and on the Human Services Agency website that will combine date from both of our programs and publicly communicate the scope and depth of those programs and how they are working," said Emily Cohen with the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

    "From a cost perspective versus the emergency room visits, shelters, you are talking about thousands and thousands so in a budget crisis, in a deficit which we are in, there is an incentive now to help reunify people with their families but it's also going to save taxpayers of San Francisco a lot of money," said Safai.

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