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Snohomish County finds recipe for success in tackling homeless crisis

Marysville and other cities in Snohomish County are already seeing success with their approach to their homeless crisis. (MyNorthwest file photo)

As Seattle continues to struggle with homeless, drugs, and the crime that comes with it, smaller cities to the north believe they’ve found the recipe for success.

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For a couple of years now, Snohomish County and the city of Everett have been embedding social workers with cops. Their primary job it is to go into homeless camps, reach out to residents, and see if they’re ready to get off the street and into treatment.

From there, they offer them services, getting people the help they need, while also cutting down on the crime that tends to come with homelessness and drug addiction, namely theft and property crimes.

A year ago, the cities of Arlington and Marysville decided to get in on the action and each got their own embedded social worker teams.

“Our overall goal with this project was to help 25 people in a two-year period,” Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith said, as he detailed results from the first year of the program. Those results far outweighed their expectations.

“They made 1,500 contacts, equating to 233 new clients. We wanted to make a difference in 25 people’s lives — they placed 80 people in treatment, 78 in in patient treatment, and two included outpatient treatment,” Smith described. “Forty-two people have graduated from the program — 25 to 42 in a one-year period, not a two-year period.”

Smith said that after dealing with a big spike in transient related crime prior to the embedded social worker program, they’re seeing a significant decrease in crime, especially areas the team is focusing in on.

“City-wide crime is down 6.75-percent year to date,” he said. “Our Northern Lights program — which encompasses all of the work that we’re doing up here in Smokey Point with the embedded social worker program — is down 29 percent, burglaries are down 50 percent, vehicle prowls are down 57 percent, [and] vehicle thefts are down 78 percent.”

“All of this after seeing different spikes within our crime stats from 2016 to early 2018,” Smith added.

Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said his city has seen similar success. On top of the embedded social worker program, there’s another big reason for their success.

“What has been successful for us that I’ve seen not successful in other areas, is the level of partnership and cooperation that we have across the board. All the way from the officer on the street to the business community, we’re active in our court community, and the great thing is that all of our systems are communicating,” Ventura explained.

Ventura says they also work closely with prosecutors, schools, the PTA, and others in the community. That really is part of the overall way of doing things in Snohomish County.

Over a year agom the county launched its MAC group. That’s essentially every county and community agency that deals with addressing the homeless and drug crisis communicating on a regular basis, including large group meetings three times a year to coordinate their response.

Marysville Mayor John Nehring said the key to success in his city has been the two prong approach.

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“We put the majority of our efforts into trying to get those people off their addiction with our embedded social worker program. But I think it’s important, and I think this is where I think we’ve had some success where maybe others haven’t, is that we do say, ‘look we’ll be patient and our social worker will come and meet with you several times,'” said Nehring. “But the minute that our officer and social worker get the message that you really don’t want help, then we turn to law enforcement, and we will prosecute the warrant and we will seek to put you in jail.”

He pointed out that locking people up is not their preference, but the bottom line is simple.

“We’re not going to allow crime to be a lifestyle that’s acceptable in the city of Marysville or north Snohomish County,” warned Nehring. “So, it’s a two-pronged approach in that we offer help, and we really beg you to take the help — that’s the true solution for you and for everybody. But we also require accountability, and if you turn the help down, there’s law enforcement behind door number two.”

 

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