SEATTLE — King County Council approved $100,000 in funding Wednesday for a program that would bus the homeless outside the county.
Council members earmarked the money as part of $450 million in supplemental funding for the 2019-2021 biennial budget. Other items in the supplemental budget included money for more electric vehicle chargers, a campaign for human trafficking awareness, and extending a gender identity task force.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who championed the bus ticket funding, said the King County Executive’s Office will also work on the design of his proposed Homeward Bound program, which would combine the five programs that currently provide family reunification services. It would also hand out bus tickets to the homeless for any destination that’s not in King County or an adjacent county.
“This funding allows us to offer stop-gap family reunification services while collecting data that will inform the design of a dedicated Homeward Bound program,” Dunn said in a statement.
Although $100,000 is a significant increase over the $37,000 that Dunn said the county currently spends on family reunification, it’s much less than the $1 million that Dunn called for two months ago.
“Considering that San Diego spends $1.2 million on their Homeward Bound program, ours will ultimately require a larger investment — but for now, this is a good start,” Dunn said in a statement.
"We think the $100,000 is an appropriate amount given what the need is," said Lauren McGowan, the senior director for Ending Homelessness with United Way King County.
McGowan said United Way has a similar program and it uses only a small fraction of the $2 million they dedicated to helping the homeless.
"We spend about $35,000 to help 116 people get reunited out of King County. So, it's a drop in the bucket of what the need is," said McGowan. "Most people experience homelessness right here in our community."
Of the hundreds of homeless people who responded to the county's most recent one-night count, 77 (9%) said a family reunification program would help them obtain permanent housing. Rental assistance and/or more affordable housing, meanwhile, was the most popular option with 629 saying it would be helpful.
The 2019 one-night count found 11,199 people experiencing homelessness, which was an 8% decrease from the previous year. Of those, 84% were living in King County when they became homeless; 5% were living out of state at the time, 4% were in Pierce County, another 4% in Snohomish County, 1% in Thurston County, and 2% elsewhere within Washington state.