For seven years now, Lela Jordan has been the City of West Palm Beach's community resources coordinator.
Most of the time, that means her
job is to find places to stay for the homeless people who wander into her
office on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.That's a next-to-impossible task in Palm Beach County, which has only 79 emergency shelter beds for an estimated 3,900 people living on the streets.Earlier this year, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
even called Palm Beach County one of the five worst places in the country to be homeless. Jordan
came up with a simple solution in January 2002.At the time, a homeless mother with two babies sat in her
had nowhere to go," recalls Jordan
, an intense woman with red spiky hair."So I asked if she
wanted to go back home.We found someone who would take her
in, and we had her
on a bus that day."It worked so well, Jordan
started doing it with many of the homeless people who came into her
dubbed the bus ticket program Homeward Bound and started soliciting donations from businesses.She
gives free tickets only if the would-be recipient isn't wanted by the cops and only if there's someone at the other end of the line willing to take them in. By September of this year, Jordan
had spent $13,000 of mainly donated money to buy tickets for 112 adults and 29 children.They've gone as far as Edmonton, Canada, and as close as Fort Myers.Often, they go back to live with parents who have long ago written them off."They clearly have a better chance," Jordan
says, "if we can get them back with family that will care for them."
Without realizing it at the time, Jordan
program had become part of a nationwide movement to gently -- or heartlessly, critics say -- transport a messy local social problem to other, preferably distant localities.