King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn was able to get the support he needed to use $100,000 in supplemental budget funding to purchase bus tickets meant to reunify people experiencing homelessness with their families.

Dunn celebrated his funding victory for his “one-way bus ticket program” on his campaign website on Wednesday.

“For months now, I have been fighting against Seattle’s failed homelessness policies with my own common sense solutions — like my controversial one-way bus ticket program to reunify the homeless with their families outside the state,” a portion of a campaign email reads.

The King County councilmember had been seeking $1 million to use toward buying bus tickets for people experiencing homelessness, closer to what San Diego spends on its Homeward Bound program. Dunn’s amendment dedicates $100,000 in funding included for Family Reunification Services through the Housing, Homelessness and Community Development department toward “ground transportation options and other services that promote family reunification.” Funding will also cover assessing and reporting on whether the program is successful.

Dunn’s own proposed Homeward Bound program, which will be worked out with the King County Executive’s office, is still being developed to take all family reunification services offered by the county and put them under one program.

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said she supported the amendment so long as it worked as intended, providing people experiencing homelessness with a way to reunify with family members and connect to housing.

“It was important to me that the program be voluntary, that it be about providing services to stabilize, and that we care in terms of this reporting back that we see that it’s working,” she said, “that this isn’t just moving people around, that it’s helping people to move on in a healthy way.”

King County Council chair Rod Dembowski opposed the amendment, saying he felt the funds could be put to better use in addressing needed homelessness services.

Lauren McGowan, senior director for Ending Homelessness and Poverty at United Way of King County, issued a statement for the nonprofit on Nov. 20 that encouraged the King County Council to reconsider. She said the $100,000 would be better spent through an existing regional diversion system.

“One of the biggest needs in our community is to have more funding for diversion, which is a housing solution program that gets people quickly off the street and into housing,” Gowan told Queen Anne News.

United Way of King County spends about $2 million a year helping people with housing debt, rental assistance and move-in costs, Gowan said, and about $35,000 is spent providing people with transportation to reunite with family and friends.

As Dunn argued on Nov. 20, the county spends about $37,000, across five programs, for family reunification, and the budget will now be nearly triple that number.

King County’s 2019 Count Us In survey of people experiencing homelessness found 9 percent of respondents wanted family reunification support, or 1,000 of the county’s 11,000 people living unhoused. Seventy-five percent identified rental assistance and more affordable housing was the support they needed to obtain permanent housing.

That same survey found that 84 percent of respondents were living in King County at the time they lost their housing.

Gowan said a worst-case scenario is that funding earmarked for bus tickets goes unused when it could have been invested into a central diversion fund available to multiple agencies across the region.

“We think that’s the best strategy for this investment and would still allow some of those dollars to go to what the councilman thinks is a good strategy and help people get connected as quickly as possible with the housing that’s appropriate for them,” Gowan said.