How do you solve a problem as intractable as homelessness?

The policy was quickly struck down in court. But Hennepin County apparently remains the only government entity in the country that offers a free bus ticket to public-assistance recipients who ask. And within days after the closing of the Drake, an Alliance of the Streets flier warned homeless people that as space got tight during the summer, Greyhound might indeed be their best option. Around the same time, Gov. Arne Carlson complained in a Star Tribune welfare-reform story that Florida "pays people to take the bus up here" and announced that the state might respond in kind.

You can picture the outcome, says Frey: "Buses as traveling shelters," a new class of nomads shipped from neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state. Or, suggests Bill at St. Stephen's, maybe it's better to drink yourself into a stupor; then you get taken to detox or, if they're full, to the hospital. He's been on the streets most of the time for two years and has tried this a few times--along with being taken in for frostbite, pneumonia, and suicidal feelings. "You get taken care of better when you're drunk or you're going to kill yourself," he notes. An older version of the same trick involves breaking a shop display window so you'll get picked up and taken to jail for the night. But that's dubious these days, because the jails are always full.

News intern Jon Segal contributed to this story.

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