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A bus ticket home could help, with strings

As part of plans to spend Medford’s share of state marijuana taxes, the City Budget Committee has approved a program that would buy bus tickets for homeless people to travel to live with relatives in other places. The idea is a sound one, if adequate safeguards are in place to make sure the money is used for its intended purpose.

Some of the other proposed uses for $1.3 million in tax revenue sound positive as well: Greenway improvements, a fire strategic plan and money for a homeless action plan and the local sobering unit. Others need a little fleshing out — namely $200,000 for “visioning” and $398,000 for “various programs” under the general heading of City Council goals.

The “reunification” proposal would allocate $50,000 for bus tickets for homeless individuals who wanted to participate and who have family willing to take them in at the other end of the journey. This is not a plan to dump the city’s homeless on other communities; it’s a concept that has been in place for three decades in many other cities.

The tentative plan would involve social service agencies helping to screen applicants and a provision that would make purchased bus tickets non-refundable to prevent anyone from defrauding the program for cash.

Not every situation will lead to a happy ending, of course. Some participants elsewhere have ended up on the street again when a family placement didn’t work out. But it’s one more option that could be a solution in some cases.

Other cases could be helped by new initiatives that emerge from a homeless action plan, to which the Budget Committee voted to allocate $100,000.

The City Council still must vote to approve the Budget Committee’s recommendations, as well as decide how to spend nearly half the $1.3 million total that has been earmarked for City Council goals. The council should strive to use that money in constructive ways that benefit city residents, not just fund studies or other vague expenditures.

This is not one-time money; marijuana taxes will continue to be a revenue source for the city in future budgets. One enticing idea for the next budget cycle would reduce public safety fees residents pay.

That’s an idea everyone can get behind.

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