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Spokane County renews funding for homeless relocation program

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(The Center Square) – The Spokane County Board of Commissioners has voted to renew funding for an organization that relocates homeless individuals to other communities.

The Tuesday decision follows similar allocations dating back to 2022, when Spokane County made its first contribution of $20,000. It was matched again in 2023 to help “continue building momentum on the program’s success,” according to a Spokane County news release.

This year’s allocation to the Volunteers of America’s Homeward Bound Program was $30,000, totaling $70,000 over the past three years.

“This investment means people experiencing homelessness can reunite with family or friends outside of Spokane County who can provide a safe and stable place to live in another community,” said Mary Kuney, chair of the Board of Commissioners, in a statement on Tuesday.

Volunteers of America is a faith-based nonprofit organization that operates in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Founded in 1896, the organization now serves more than 1.5 million people each year, according to the VOA website.

General services include family support, childcare referrals, housing assistance, addiction support, food pantries, homeless outreach and more.

Homeward Bound is a travel assistance fund that individuals can apply for on the VOA website to reunite with support networks elsewhere. If approved, they can use the funds to purchase plane, train and bus tickets while also covering other expenses such as pet and baggage fees or Uber and Lyft rides, according to the site.

However, once relocated, VOA will not bring the individual back to Spokane County. The Homeward Bound Program explicitly states that tickets are one-way, and individuals cannot return using the funds.

According to the news release, VOA has relocated 98 people to communities outside Spokane County, spending an average of $300 to $400 per individual.

Commissioner Chris Jordan applauded the ongoing effort but acknowledged the program is only one of many steps needed to address the region’s homeless population.

“One thing I’ve consistently heard from our homeless service providers is that the vast majority of the unhoused folks in our region are from our region,” Jordan said during Tuesday’s meeting. “These funds serve a fraction of our overall homeless population.”

To receive funding, individuals must have an intake form completed by one of Spokane’s homeless providers. The eligible providers listed include Jewels Helping Hands, SNAP, Catholic Charities, Peer Spokane, Cup of Cool Water, VOA, Community Centers and “other,” which includes outreach projects, social workers, hospital staff and case managers.

Once a provider completes the intake form, they can file a request form for the individual. The request form asks various questions and includes a section for the provider to sign verifying that a family or friend agreed to house the individual.

“Homeward Bound saves taxpayer dollars, by diverting individuals from utilizing other higher-cost systems in our community and allows the County to invest those resources for other pressing needs,” said Josh Kerns, vice chair of the Board of County Commissioners, in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the release, Spokane County is the only government agency in the region with this service.