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Lancaster mayor sends homeless packing

March 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The mayor of Lancaster has come up with a unique new way to reduce his city's homeless population. He's teamed up with a nonprofit group to give some homeless people a one-way bus ticket out of town. The mayor says other cities use Lancaster as a dumping ground for their homeless and he's fed up with it.The mayor of Lancaster is fired up about homeless people on his streets. Too many from out of town, too often from Los Angeles, arriving on Metrolink.

"One time we talked to this guy who didn't know how he got here," said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Perris. "They gave him a ticket to get onto a train and said there would be a job for him. When he got there nobody was there and no ticket to get back."

Mayor Perris developed a novel transportation program to turn them around, putting up his own money to buy their tickets out of here.

"There are families out there that if they could just get to their family, they would have someone to take care of them, but there's no way to get home," said Mayor Perris. "We help them get home."

Mayor Parris donated $10,000 to Grace Resource Center to vet potential candidates for travel. Executive Director Steve Baker asks a series of questions.

"If you could go there to start over, would that work for you? 'Aw man, I can't get to Phoenix.' Well we can do that. So we get a number, we talk to the family member, make sure they have a place to stay, that someone will be a support to them, and then we get them a bus ticket and let them go," said Baker.

It comes down to resources. Lancaster already has highest mortality rate of poor people in the county, says Mayor Perris.

"What's really going on is that the city of Los Angeles is encouraging the people in poverty to get out, and then they don't have to take care of them," said Mayor Perris.

Providers on Skid Row and Los Angeles city leaders reject that notion.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villarigosa says the city does everything possible to help homeless people, not send them away.

Raymond Davis, who is homeless himself in Lancaster, says he sees only a few out-of-towners.

"But for the most part, the people here are homegrown," said Davis. "And they're local yokels, whatever you want to call them."

For those who aren't, the mayor has plans.