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Monroe finds success with creative solution to homeless crisis

A homeless encampment under I-90 in Seattle. (KIRO 7 TV)

Homelessness and the opioid crisis is impacting most communities in Western Washington. We often talk about how it hits Seattle and Olympia and Everett, but these are bigger cities with bigger budgets. What about some of the smaller communities? They are having to get a little bit creative in how they tackle the problem in Monroe.

Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to discuss how the embedded social worker program is producing effective results in the community.

“We contract with Snohomish County for halftime position of a social worker. She goes out with one of our sergeants, makes contacts with people who are homeless and helps get them in contact with different resources,” he said. “The program’s been really successful. We’ve helped people through drug treatment, and we’ve also helped people get into housing.”

What distinguishes the Monroe approach from the common practice in Seattle is that the reality of actual incarceration accompanies the offer of help, so while the social workers and police would prefer the offer of help be accepted, the law will be enforced if it’s not.

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“They’ve also given us through the embedded social worker program access to the diversion center at Snohomish County, which allows us to — when we do make an arrest — get people to the diversion center, sometimes in lieu of incarceration when they’re willing to accept help.”

“When we can’t help you accept the help that we’re offering, we do have to take the incarceration route. And sometimes that is what it takes for people to make the change in their life to get off drugs, to find housing, to get the treatment they need for mental and behavioral health issues, and so on.”

Mayor Thomas says that it’s crucial that cities like Monroe have enough facilities for people who actually want help, as there should never be a wait list for those who need it, and he hopes the laws remain as such so that those on the street who don’t want help can ultimately get the help they need, like Ricky’s Law, which allows officials to involuntarily commit people for substance use disorder.

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“Changes in law like that we could use to get people off the street and get people to help they need, when they’re just not of clear mind to understand that, ‘Hey, it’s not healthy. It’s not safe for me to live on the street. I should be getting help.'”

“As the degree of homelessness has increased in the region and quite frankly, across the U. S. and into Canada, the number of people who are homeless in our community has also increased. The great news is that there are a lot of people who have accepted help through the embedded social worker program.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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