The mayor of Federal Way attributed the Durkan dust-up to a misunderstanding and said only 12 passes were actually handed out.
This month’s snowstorms highlighted the regional nature of the local homelessness crisis and the need for suburban cities to play a role, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said this week, citing bus tickets purchased by Federal Way to help homeless people access shelter elsewhere.
“We had an extraordinary effort during the snowy season … to bring people inside,” Durkan said at a briefing Monday, referring to the more than 500 emergency shelter beds the city opened in response to the weather.
“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 for bus tickets to Seattle because they knew we had shelters,” she added. “We can’t have that. We need to have a regional response where we are pulling together, where people can be served in the communities where they live.”
Durkan’s remarks were directed at Federal Way, which bought transit passes Feb. 8, when the worst snowstorm hit. In a Facebook post, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell wrote he had “authorized up to $1,000 in emergency spending on bus passes to help get people to a shelter in Seattle, the only place in King County that has guaranteed not to turn people away.”
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The post urged people to pick up the passes at Federal Way’s City Hall police station.
On Tuesday, Ferrell described the Durkan dust-up as “a misunderstanding.” Though Federal Way did spend $918 on transit passes, only 12 were actually handed out during the storm, and the recipients weren’t directed to Seattle, he said.
“In practice, that’s not what occurred,” Ferrell said, attributing the Facebook post to a staffer. “The idea was to purchase ORCA cards but not to direct anyone to any particular destination.”
Federal Way only opens an emergency shelter when people lose power or are otherwise displaced from their homes, Ferrell said.
In the past, a local church has opened an emergency shelter during snowstorms, but that didn’t happen this time, he said.
Ferrell said he agrees with Durkan that regional coordination is needed and that cities like Federal Way should do more.
He intends to meet with Federal Way services providers and religious groups to talk about how to respond better next time.
“She hit the nail on the head,” he said. “We have to be thinking regionally about how to connect when these events occur and get people to where the resources are without communities not holding up their responsibilities.”
Ferrell said Catholic Community Services operates the Reach Out winter shelter in Federal Way already.
He said another nonprofit organization hopes to open an additional homeless shelter in the city, on Pacific Highway.
In December, Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine endorsed a plan to merge homelessness spending by Seattle and county.