SPOKANE, Wash. — The Homeward Bound project isn't a new homeless solution.
In fact, Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns saw the project implemented in King County and wondered how the program would fare in eastern Washington.
The project provides homeless people the access to transportation to family members or caretakers that can provide them with a roof over their heads and an opportunity for a fresh start.
"The only thing keeping them from getting out of that cycle of homelessness or getting off the streets is the cost of a bus ticket or a train ticket," Kerns said. "It's worth giving it a shot here and in Spokane County and seeing if we can have some success with that as well."
Kerns brought the idea to the rest of the board and unanimously, the three commissioners voted to push it forward. Then, the board chose community partner Volunteers of America to support in outreach and management.
Volunteers of America operates shelters and serves those experiencing homelessness.
"When people in our community are struggling and in need of support, that's when VOA steps in," Rae-Lynn Barden, VOA marketing and communications director said. "We believe homelessness shouldn't be a life sentence."
VOA locally partners with SNAP, Catholic Charities, Hope House and other resources for those who are financial insecure.
As the program gets off the ground, Barden said it will present the opportunity to its partners for people to volunteer to take advantage of the transportation funds.
Barden said the program could help cut or eliminate the moving costs that can limit a person's potential for success.
"It can be a couple hundred dollars to a thousand dollars when you think about a rental deposit, some people need a utility deposit, and then that transportation cost to get them set up in a new town," Barden said. "And then things to make your apartment successful for you so it adds up very quickly.”
Participation in the program is completely voluntary; no one will be forced into it.
"It's something that we envision the providers in the community telling individuals about, you know, hey, this is a program that is available," Barden said. "Do you have family in another community? Do you have close friends or relatives that could take you in to their home that can help get you off the streets? And if they do, then this is a program that can be explored.”
Barden said VOA hopes to help at least 25 people.
Data on the previous permanent location of homeless people in Spokane was last collected in during the 2019 Point in Time Count.
According to the city's report, 32% of those surveyed reported their last permanent living space was outside of Spokane County and Airway Heights.
Kerns said if the program is successful, there is potential to increase the program budget before the end of the year or next year.
Barden said VOA hopes to launch the program in the next few weeks.