Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is voicing her support for a homeless bussing program run by the Nashville Downtown Partnership.
Her support comes as the District Attorney in San Diego County, California blasted Nashville for sending a homeless man with a long criminal record across the country to their community.
Their reactions follow a NewsChannel 5 investigation into the Homeward Bound bussing program run by the Nashville Downtown Partnership.
More than 900 people have received free, one-way bus tickets since 2008 through the program.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis questioned why Samuel Partin was given a bus ticket by the Downtown Partnership.
Partin was homeless living on the streets of downtown Nashville in 2014.
He was arrested so many times for things like Public Intoxication police put him on their Chronic Offender List.
But those arrests stopped when the Partnership paid for his bus ticket to San Diego.
Partin now faces 15 years in prison after walking into a bank with a weapon and demanding money.
"Everybody has a homeless problem, but you don't ship your criminal problems to another state. It's outrageous," Dumanis said.
The President and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, Tom Turner, defended the bussing program.
He said the program is designed to help people stranded in Nashville and the Partnership's social worker verifies people who get a ticket have a job or family where they are going.
"The gentleman asked to go," Turner said of Partin. "We can't control what he does in San Diego just like we don't control what someone does here."
The Partnership's only records on Partin indicate he went to San Diego through their "Outreach Program."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Turner, "The Outreach program, what did you call to verify?
Turner responded, "In this case I don't know."
San Diego authorities say there is no record Partin has family in their city.
He was arrested and sent to prison shortly after arriving.
Eight days after getting out of prison police say he robbed the bank.
Council member Freddie O'Connell is also on the board of the Nashville Downtown Partnership and said he wants to review the program
"I totally appreciate the questions being raised here. This is a complicated issue," said O'Connell.
He said the program can be helpful for some people legitimately stranded in Nashville.
"What is transportation assistance like? What should it be like for the homeless community? Answering that question is something we do have to grapple with," O'Connell said.
Mayor Megan Barry released a long statement.
She said she is discussing with the Partnership "further safeguards to ensure those who receive travel fare have access to resources once they reach their destination city."
Officials in San Diego don't feel like that happened in Partin case.
District Attorney Dumanis is concerned Nashville just wanted to get rid of a chronic offender and didn't check to see if he had family or a chance to succeed in San Diego.
"I certainly wouldn't do something like that to another county. It's just not appropriate to get bussed their criminals," Dumanis said.
Here is the entire statement from Nashville Mayor Megan Barry:
“Homelessness is a critical issue for our city. It is also a complex issue with many causes, and finding solutions can be difficult and time-consuming. I am committed to this work and to finding ways to sharply reduce the number of Nashvillians who experience homelessness. As a former member of the Metro Homelessness Commission, my priority is to coordinate efforts around housing and homelessness to eventually end it in Nashville.
“The Nashville Downtown Partnership has been committed to helping individuals experiencing homelessness in a variety of ways. Most of their efforts are focused on connecting individuals with housing through the How’s Nashville program, as well as supportive services such as drug and alcohol treatment or mental health services. Homeward Bound accounts for roughly 25% of their efforts towards supporting individuals experiencing homelessness.
“Travel fare for those experiencing homelessness is an important resource for individuals who may have better opportunities in other cities where they have family, friends, or job prospects to support themselves. This program has been in place for eight years, has been publicly disclosed in Nashville Downtown Partnership’s annual reports on its website, and is completely voluntary and available upon request for those who seek this service.
“Oftentimes, we find that those experiencing homelessness have lost connection and communication with their families. They have little support structure and no family. On the other side, families can lose touch with their loved ones and not know what city they are even living in. If we can identify individuals wanting to reunite with families, Homeward Bound can provide a foundation for recovery.
“We are discussing with the Downtown Partnership the possibility of further safeguards to ensure those who receive travel fare have access to resources once they reach their destination city. However, we should not deny those experiencing homelessness this service if it will lead to them having a better quality of life. Nor should we put in barriers that prevent those with a previous criminal record from having access to this program.
“We should all be working together to end homelessness through housing and supportive programs that empower individuals and families to make a better life for themselves. That is the focus of my administration, it is a mission I know the Downtown Partnership is committed to, and it is an important factor in keeping Nashville a warm and welcoming place for all.”