SEATTLE -- It’s a story passed down through generations: Cities, desperate to do-away with street dwellers, purchase the homeless one-way tickets to social service paradise: Seattle (or “Freeattle,” as the tale goes).
The rumor has long been circulated among police officers and journalists, but never proven – until now?
On Monday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan shared her disappointment with a neighboring city that allegedly shipped its homeless elsewhere during the recent bout of winter weather.
“We had an extraordinary effort during the snowy season, the 10 days, to bring people inside,” Durkan said during a briefing with the media. “Not all of the cities in our region were either able or willing to do that. For example, there was one local city whose response to the snow was to authorize $1,000 in bus tickets to Seattle because they knew we had shelters. We can’t have that.”
The city in question? Federal Way.
In a Facebook post on February 8, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell indeed wrote that he’d authorized the spending.
“I've also authorized up to $1,000 in emergency spending on bus passes to get people to a shelter in Seattle, the only place in King County that has guaranteed not to turn anyone away,” he wrote.
Mayor Durkan used the post to reiterate previous calls for a more regional effort to address homelessness.
“We need to have a regional response where we are pulling together; where people can be served in the communities they live; and where people believe that we can do the most we can to move people from experiencing homelessness into long-term housing, and just as importantly to make sure that we can get people the services they need particularly in the area of behavioral health, mental health and addiction services.”
A spokesperson for the City of Federal Way told Q13 News that only a dozen individuals took them up on the free bus fare, and that they could not track whether they used it to actually get to a shelter in Seattle.
"The cards were given to our police officers on the street so they could hand them out to those who needed transportation services," Mayor Ferrell said in a written statement Tuesday. "Officers ended up handing out 12 cards to individuals in the community. There was no directive provided to officers to tell those individuals where to go ... the ORCA cards provided individuals flexibility to give them options in order to find shelter.”
The Federal Way spokesperson added that Mayor Ferrell and Mayor Durkan spoke briefly by phone on Monday to discuss the controversy and that there are no hard feelings between the two city leaders.