DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – The police chief in this popular beach town wants to give the homeless free bus tickets so they can find housing with out-of-town family and friends and get help with problems such as mental illness.
Chief Michael Chitwood says the homeless population of about 2,600 has given the city, well-known across the United States for its spring break parties, a bad image. Earlier in the year, he told police officers to arrest the homeless for petty crimes such as trespassing and panhandling to push them into getting help from social-service agencies.
Chitwood thinks the bus-ticket idea will reduce the homeless population.
"I will do everything humanly possible to help somebody who is out on their luck," Chitwood told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
Other communities, including several in South Florida, have tried giving the homeless bus trips. Some advocates say it is a waste of time.
The American Civil Liberties Union supports Chitwood's idea.
"It's a positive," said Central Florida chapter head George Crossley, who has opposed Orlando's razing of two homeless camps and banning of feedings of the homeless in certain areas. "At least it gives a person the option of being back with friends and family."
Critics of Chitwood's proposal say he needs to learn more about the homeless before offering solutions.
About 73 percent of Volusia and Flagler counties' homeless would not need to leave town because they are originally from the area, said Lindsay Roberts, executive director of the Volusia-Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless. Most homeless do not have family or friends willing to take them in, which is why they end up on the streets, she said.