King County council member wants $1 million policy to send homeless to distant family members

SEATTLE -- King County Vice Chair Reagan Dunn is proposing a controversial policy to combat the homeless crisis.

It’s a policy that would cost a $1 million, but it’s also one he believes will create positive change.

During this year’s Point in Time Count, we learned more than 11,000 people lived on the streets of Seattle and King County.

“What we have been doing in the past simply hasn’t worked,” Dunn said.

He says it’s time to start thinking differently.

“What we haven’t been having in Seattle is discussions about controversial policies,” Dunn said.

Among several proposals, Dunn is suggesting is a one-way, long-distance bus ticket for homeless people to reunite with family.

“What we’re trying to do is answer a call; 1-in-10 homeless folks say they want family reunification, let's answer that call,” he said.

Dunn says organizations in the county already spend tens of thousands of dollars doing this a year, and he wants to invest more. Dunn is proposing $1 million toward this effort.

“It’s one more tool in our toolbox,” he said.

The United Way of King County is one of the local organizations already providing a similar service.

“Last year 116 people were reunited with friends and family outside of King County,” explained Lauren McGowan, the Senior Director of Ending Homelessness for United Way.

She says last year the United Way of King County spent about $25,000 on tickets home.

However, McGowan says she doesn’t think Dunn’s proposal is a good investment.

“It makes me nervous to think about setting aside really a whole lot of resources to try and help people move out of town, when what we know is most of them want to stay right here in King County,” she said.

While the organization provided tickets to 116 people, McGowan says in total they assisted more than 2000 last year. She says if more people wanted to leave King County, then they would provide them with those resources, however that is not what they are seeing.

“All of the data backs getting people into housing right here in our region,” she said.

Dunn is also proposing an outreach team focused on homeless people using King County Metro, and a notification program that would alert doctors if one of their patients is found dead related to an opioid overdose.

These ideas would have to pass through county council before anything becomes official.