SPOKANE, Wash. - A Moses Lake non-profit is planning to help bus their homeless residents to other cities around Washington, including Spokane.
The non-profit Serve Moses Lake is holding a Winter Relief Fund Drive, which in part, gives those experiencing homeless in Grant County "warm shelter transportation" or warm clothes.
By helping out the homeless residents in their city, Serve Moses Lake executive director Brandon LaBonte said they will provide a bus fare for residents wanting to go to another city for a warming center. Those cities include Spokane, Seattle, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee and also out of the state.
"If they want warm shelter, and they don't have the means to get there, Serve is in a position to help people in need," LaBonte said.
We always hear rumors of cities bussing homeless people to other cities. This organization is not only doing it, they're raising money for donations for bus tickets. @Elenee_Dao is heading to Moses Lake for the story today. #4NewsNow https://t.co/hTfMbZjgEC— Melissa Luck ☘ (@MelissaKXLY4) September 26, 2019
The Homeless Task Force of Grant County will not operate a warming center this year because of a lack of funding. Moses Lake's interim city manager Kevin Fuhr said the city is working to get a permanent solution, like affordable housing. This project won't happen until 2020, as they are working to secure funding from the state.
Fuhr said the city does not have a warming center, but there is a committee within Grant County that does. He said the warming shelter will not happen this year because the committee had been going back and forth with facilities for the last few years, so finding a facility was an issue too.
Just spoke to the interim city manager of Moses Lake. He says the city is working to get a permanent program in place for the solution, such as affordable housing. The city doesn't have a warming center, but there's a committee within Grant County that does. @kxly4news #4NewsNow pic.twitter.com/L2PwY3cBVO— Elenee Dao KXLY (@Elenee_Dao) September 26, 2019
Fuhr said the city has nothing to do with what Serve Moses Lake is doing, but knows of their efforts.
"Their heart is in the right spot. Their heart is what's best for the people, and try to get them out of the elements," Fuhr said.
LaBonte wants to express that they are not just gathering their homeless population and putting them on a bus and sending them elsewhere. It's for those who want to leave the city for the winter to get to a warming center.
There are less than 100 homeless people in Grant County, according to their 2019 Point in Time count.
"If they can't find warmth and Serve is one of those organizations that say I'm sorry, then it's no different than the city or any task force or anybody saying we can't provide warm shelter," LaBonte said. "If Serve says we can't provide transportation for you to get somewhere warm, then we're not doing what we're set out to do."
4 News Now spoke to Steven Smallwood, a homeless man who came from Tacoma to Moses Lake. He said he would not be taking that ticket to another city because he wants to stay with his family that he's found.
"I want to make sure that they make it if I do go back to Tacoma anytime, but I like it here," he said.
While some may not be happy about what Serve is doing in bringing homeless to other cities, LaBonte said they will do what they can to help the people they serve.
"People are going to be in need this winter, and they're going to need the help. If critics are out there with the understanding there is no warming center and yet they're warm in their own homes, and they're not doing anything about it, Serve is going to do something about it," LaBonte said.
He added that they have spoken to a few directors in other cities who help people in need, and they know about the plan.
LaBonte said less than a handful of people have decided to get a ticket, but they will have no minimum or maximum to allow people to seek out a warming center.
A ticket through Greyhound to Spokane, Tri-Cities or Seattle will cost from $30 to $60. If a person wants to head to Wenatchee, that ticket is $3 through a different bus company.
According to Spokane's 2018 Point in Time count, no one listed Grant County as the location of their most recent stable housing situation.
The decision by Serve Moses Lake comes as the City of Spokane struggles to find stable shelter and warming centers for its own homeless community.
Three out of the four emergency warming centers from last year will not be reopening.
The Cannon Center is currently under negotiations. The city council hopes the facility will be open 24/7, but the Salem Lutheran Church, Westminster United Church and the Ermina Center will not be reopening.
Members of the council said they were told a plan and shelter space would be in place by the fall, but none of those details have been finalized.
Mayor David Condon said a plan is already in the works. He said the plan includes finalizing a new shelter that would accommodate up to 60 people, as well as opening two warming center locations that would fit up to 150 people.
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