Homeless Air: NYC Pays to Ship Homeless Home

It's a startling way to solve New York City's very real problem. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is offering one-way tickets to homeless people to send them back to their original home towns.

The program, which has been in operation since 2007, has sent people back to Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Puerto Rico and even Paris. Sometimes the travel comes with big price tags like $2,500 to go to South Africa.

VIDEO: Sending the Homeless AwayPlay

Bloomberg has defended the controversial program, saying relocation is much less expensive than spending up to $36,000 per year to keep a homeless family in a shelter.

"This saves taxpayers of New York an enormous amount of money," Bloomberg said. "Also keep in mind nobody's forcing these people to go. They want to go."

In the last two years New York City has relocated 564 families by planes, train and bus to 24 states and five continents.

The program, which has been under the radar until now, is getting attention on blogs, cable news shows, and was ridiculed by radio personality Rush Limbaugh. "I wonder if they give [them] any cupcakes for the plane flight," the conservative talk show host quipped.

Some advocates for the homeless criticize the program because they believe the mayor is motivated by a political desire to reduce the city's record rates of homelessness.

"All we're really doing is arguably shifting the problem to another municipality," said President and CEO for Partnership for the Homeless Arnold Cohen.

City officials pointed out they've only relocated families once they know what's waiting on the other end.

"We identify outside New York City resources that they have so that they will be going to their own apartment, going to live with a family, or going to a friend, they are going to a home," said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs.

Then, the city employs a travel agency for domestic travel and the Department of Homeless Services handles international travel.

New York City officials said once a family leaves, they do make several calls to ensure that everything is alright. So far, not one family has come back to city shelters yet, according to officials.

City officials said there are no limits on where a family can be sent and families are free to reject the offer.

Some homeless are open to idea of relocation. Theresa Small Smith is a homeless New York City resident who is originally from Los Angeles and said she definitely would like to participate in the program.

The Bloomberg administration's plan is not a new initiative. The idea of giving one-way tickets to the homeless has been tried in places like California, Nevada and Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.