A smart new way to deal with (some of) the homeless

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The standard liberal approach to urban homelessness is creating an expensive and ongoing ad hoc entitlement: more and better government-run shelters, more government-subsidized housing. The standard conservative approach to urban homelessness: spending as close to nothing as possible, and try not to think about it.

Which is why the Bloomberg Administration’s approach to dealing with homeless residents of New York City who are from foreign countries or far-away American places is so refreshing: offering to give them one-way airplane tickets or gas money if they have friends or family in Oaxaca or San Juan or Detroit who will take them in. It’s neither an obvious “left” or “right” solution, and one that risked complaints about profligacy — OMG! $6,332 for tickets to Paris! Even though the scheme only became public last week, it’s been in operation for two years and has removed 550 homeless families from New York’s jurisdiction.

It costs New York City $36,000 to provide temporary housing and other services for each homeless family for a year — vs. an annual cost to the city for the relocation program of $500,000. This is the sort of bracingly pragmatic policy solution that can happen when the stale old left-versus-right debate is suspended in favor of non-ideological, thinking-outside-the-box thinking.