Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: How kind - a ticket to nowhere

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In New York, street sleepers are given a bus ticket out of town - let's be better than that. Photo / Getty Images
In New York, street sleepers are given a bus ticket out of town - let's be better than that. Photo / Getty Images

At least we're not like New Yorkers. For nearly a decade, New York City has been solving its homeless problem by giving street sleepers a one-way bus ticket out of town.

You can understand the logic. An average bus ride for a family costs less than US$300 ($444). The cost of looking after that family in the city is US$36,000 ($53,000).

So away they're sent. Away from the lights of New York City. Away from the tourists and their cameras and sensitivities. Out of sight.

But we're not much better.

The difference between New Yorkers and Aucklanders is we're kind enough to hand over $5000 to assuage our guilt, before giving our homeless a one-way ticket to Ngaruawahia.

What is in Ngaruawahia?

It's no fault of the people who live there, but the town is rotting. It's preferable to hold on for Mercer than to stop to pee in Ngaruawahia.

Between Seek and Trade Me's online vacancies, a grand total of four jobs are available in the town. A homeless family sent to Ngaruawahia will have a home but no hope.

And yet, a house is not to be dismissed off-hand like a vegan rejecting a bleeding steak.

This deportation of Auckland's homeless could be the start of a good idea. Auckland is full to capacity. There is no room in town for Jesus, his parents and the donkey, let alone all the jobseekers and immigrants flooding in.

But, it's only the start of a good idea - otherwise known as a knee-jerk reaction.

If you need proof of that, just find the news clip of Finance Minister Bill English being blindsided by the announcement. Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett's staff seemed to have been in such a rush they hadn't managed to dash the news to him up one Beehive floor.

This idea needs a little more work. Like, how about not sending these folks to Huntly or Gisborne or the place you don't stop to pee in? Sure, these towns have empty state houses but they also have unemployment as high as 17 per cent - three times as high as the rest of the country.

They are towns where deported parents will have no choice but to be on the dole. Some of these towns already have their own homeless.

Why didn't someone suggest sending Auckland's homeless to Blenheim? The KFC in Blenheim recently shut down its drive-through because there weren't enough staff to run it. Blenheim has fruit-picking jobs filled by foreigners. Trade Me Jobs and Seek lists 233 available jobs in Marlborough.

It is possible Blenheim doesn't have as many empty state houses as the towns the Government would rather send the homeless to, in which case, build some more.

The alternative of sending people to a guaranteed life on the dole is shortsighted. It fixes today's problem and leaves us with tomorrow's disaster. It starts yet another cycle of kids growing up with out-of-work parents as role models.

If you give people the option of a home and a possible job, chances are they'll take it. They will leave friends and families and established networks in Auckland for the chance at a better life.

You can't ship the homeless out of town without giving them something: a home, a job, hope.

Even the homeless shipped out of New York were given something. When their buses arrived wherever they were sent to, they were given a bit of paper. A bus ticket out of that town. Let's be better than that.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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