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Hey Area: The truth behind San Francisco's homeless bussing program

The Guardian
Data visualization from The Guardian's "Bussed Out: How America Moves it's Homeless"

One of our listeners, Consuelo Faust, recently asked us a question through our Hey Area project: “Is it fact or urban legend that other cities or even States send their homeless people to San Francisco?”

Consuelo says she’s picked up the rumor in multiple places.


“There is this notion that it's kind of like a retribution to San Francisco for being, you know, Sin City ... We have a lot of gay people, we have all of the great causes that we support as a city and that are resented by a lot of the country.”


The answer to Faust’s question? It’s a myth that the rest of the country is bussing people who are homeless to San Francisco as some sort of recompense for having progressive politics.


But, it is true that bussing programs exist. Many cities all over the country will buy you a bus ticket if you’re homeless and you have somewhere to stay in another city.

Over the last 12 years, about 150 people have taken free bus tickets to come here. But, over that same time, San Francisco has bussed out over 10,000 people. In other words, the city’s homeless population would be over twice as big today, if they hadn’t taken the city up on a bus trip.

These answers come from several years of research around the country by The Guardian.

We spoke with Alastair Gee, one of the lead authors of “Bussed Out: How America Moves its Homeless,” who says this reporting had been missing for too long.

"We found that very few cities do any kind of long-term follow up to find out if these programs, which they sell as a solution to homelessness are actually solving homelessness. One of our goals was to answer this question that the cities say they had answered but actually hadn't."

What have you always wondered about the Bay Area? Ask Hey Area below.


Liza got her start in radio with KALW's Audio Academy. Now, she is KALW's econmy reporter and a mentor for in the KALW Audio Academy.