Because the cost of housing homeless families in shelters is so high, the Bloomberg administration has been quietly funding a $500,000-a-year program to buy one-way plane tickets for indigent individuals if they agree to stay away. Well, the program was quiet until it was featured in today's Times, so who knows how many New Yorkers will now start posing as transients for one-way tickets to Burning Man. So far the city has paid for more than 550 families to leave since 2007.

To get the free ticket, the recipients must prove they have a relative ready to take them in. According to a map of their destinations, most of them (136) have been bound for Puerto Rico, while Florida was the #2 destination (100). Taxpayers paid $6,332 to send at least one family to Paris, and other ports of call have included Antigua, India, Russia, Peru, and Barbados. One city official says, "We have paid for visas, we’ve gone down to the consulate, we’ve provided letters, we’ve paid for passports for people to go. Anyone who comes through our door." In some cases, the city even advances the family up to four months’ rent, a one-month security deposit, a furniture allowance and a broker’s fee!

Officials say none of the relocated families have returned to city shelters. And one family from North Carolina illustrates the fast turnaround now experienced by some poor newcomers: Justin Little and Eugenia Martin, both 20, owed back rent on their apartment in Fayetteville, so they moved here Saturday with their 5-month-old, Inez. They planned to stay in shelters while looking for jobs, "because there’s always work in New York." But by Monday they were on their way back home, courtesy of NYC and a relative who came up with money for the back rent.

Arnold Cohen from the Partnership for the Homeless thinks the whole thing stinks: "The city is engaged in cosmetics. What we’re doing is passing the problem of homelessness to another city. We’re taking people from a shelter bed here to the living room couch of another family."