Cautious reaction to a million dollars in bus tickets for homeless people

SEATTLE — A million dollars' worth of bus tickets to get the homeless out of town -- we asked King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn if his proposal idea is born of frustration with homeless people.

"It's much more compassionate than that. What I'm trying to do is create a one-way transportation program with the very specific purpose of reunifying homeless people with families or close friends that they might have anywhere else in the country," Dunn said.

He says this is not about forcefully sweeping people off the streets.

"No. This is completely a voluntary program," he said

The King County programs that currently offer bus tickets served only 57 families at a cost of $37,000 last year.

Most of the 11,000 homeless in King County come from the three-county area and won't be eligible for the bus ticket program.

But Dunn believes a million dollars would make a big difference.

"That's a thousand people that we could certainly help move to a place that could better care for them than the care they are receiving here on the streets of Seattle."

He says other West Coast cities have seen success.

"San Francisco is reporting 56% success rate, Portland 58% percent. If we're batting .500 on this program, I would argue that it's probably better than any other program the government is putting forward right now to address the homeless issue."

His plan drew a cautious reception at today's meeting of the Regional Policy Committee.

"Sometimes people who are experiencing homelessness have a lot of different issues and that reunification takes a little more effort than just a bus ticket," said Redmond City Councilmember Angela Birney.

During the discussion, Dunn offered to start with a smaller pilot program, $250,000. And to allow the program to pay for train tickets as well as bus tickets.