EVERETT — Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson is proposing about $1 million in spending in programs for next year to dramatically ramp up the city’s initiatives to combat chronic street nuisances.
The effort builds on programs already happening through the city’s Streets Initiative task force and with various police initiatives, such as hiring a full-time social worker to ride along on police patrols.
The new initiative would fund the hiring of four new police officers, one sergeant, two more full-time social workers and another prosecutor. The money would come from the city’s capital improvement budget.
The slate of issues involves one idea that was not a Streets Initiative proposal and that would need City Council approval: a revamped anti-panhandling ordinance that the council rejected in April.
“Some in the service community said that this would somehow criminalize homelessness,” Stephanson said.
The resurrected ordinance would shift the focus from all public sidewalks and intersections to those where people have felt unsafe: near ATMs, grocery stores and in private parking lots. It would also ban panhandling after dark.
“Even though we’re seeing crime statistics trending down for the year, there’s a continued perception by our citizens that they don’t feel safe,” Stephanson said.
Stephenson said that he hopes the city council will enact the ordinance along with his budget proposal to the council Oct. 28.
Other aspects of Stephanson’s plan include building 20 permanent supportive housing units over the next two years for frequent users of city and emergency services, and establishing a work crew program to which low-level offenders could be diverted prior to booking into jail to make restitution, such as on litter patrol or graffiti removal crews.
The plan is more holistic, said Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman, in that it provides options for nonviolent offenders who would prefer to receive social services instead of going to jail.
“It’s not just going out and arresting people; that’s actually going to be our last option,” Templeman said.
The police have had a full-time social worker, Lauren Rainbow, who has been based in the North Precinct station for five weeks and gone out on patrols. Templeman said she has probably made about 50 contacts with people so far.
“What we’ve found out already (is that) she’s overwhelmed,” Templeman said. He said one particular person who had been homeless for 10 years, who wanted to get into the social services network, still required more than 100 hours of work with the social worker and three other city and county staff.
That person was placed in a supportive housing environment. Templeman said his case points to the improbability that most of the city’s homeless would be able to do it on their own.
There is easily enough work for three full-time social workers, he said.
“It’s crucial that our patrol officers at all shifts have access to them,” he said.
The city also is exploring sending more detainees to the Yakima County Jail, which is cheaper than Snohomish County Jail.
“There has been an impact on our ability to work with low-level offenders” and Yakima has fewer restrictions, Templeman said.
Assistant city attorney Hil Kaman said that it’s an option to consider for those who refuse offers to get treatment for their problems.
A pilot program earlier this year resulted in 14 people detained on the street who then refused social services and were sent to Yakima County Jail to await trial. Half of them already were convicted felons.
The city is now working with Yakima to craft a more permanent arrangement. The contract for the pilot project included transportation both to and from Yakima by corrections officers, Templeman said.
City Councilwoman Judy Tuohy, who leads the council’s new Public Safety Committee, said Everett may need to lobby for more state funds or seek out some grants to help offset some costs, such as for providing more beds for people with mental illnesses at Compass Health or to expand coordination between police and social service agencies.
“It’s a work in progress, but it’s a good start,” Tuohy said.