Last month the City of Everett announced that we had identified a potential location for a permanent supportive housing facility for the chronically homeless in Everett. This week we selected Catholic Housing Services to develop and operate the facility. A recent guest commentary in the Herald, as well as other online comments, included misconceptions about the project, and I want to address some of those concerns, and share why this facility is so critically important for our community.
We estimate that the facility will cost about $14 million to design and build, based on similar projects in other communities. $3 million in state and county funds has already been allocated for the project. As our recent request for qualifications spells out, Catholic Housing Services will be responsible for securing the remaining funding, as well as the funds to cover annual operating costs. While we are providing property where this experienced developer can build the facility, the city is not getting into the housing business and will not provide the remainder of the needed funding. Much of the funding will come from tax credits, and those private investors will be committed to making this a successful project.
But let us be clear, the tenants who will live in this facility are already heavy users of taxpayer resources. The individuals identified in our Chronic-Utilizer Alternative Response Team (CHART) program, many of whom will be the first to move into this housing, cost the city, the county, hospitals, emergency responders and local businesses millions of dollars a year. In fact, a few of the individuals represent several hundred thousand dollars each in emergency response, hospital visits, jail time and more.
This is not an effective or efficient use of taxpayer resources, nor is it a sustainable, long-term solution.
It is clear that we are facing a crisis on our streets, and residents and business owners look to the city for action. The planned low-barrier facility is part of our comprehensive Safe Streets plan, which focuses on incorporating proven, effective approaches to street-level social issues, including homelessness and drug use. Our targeted enforcement and diversion programs are already showing positive results. The first six individuals to participate in CHART had an 80 percent reduction in EMS contacts and a 92 percent reduction in jail days — a significant cost savings for the city. The Everett Police department is using innovative methods to help addicts get on the path to recovery, while still holding criminals accountable.
But in all of our work, housing is consistently identified as the key that is needed to create better outcomes for individuals and better outcomes for the overall community.
The planned facility is not a treatment center, a day center or a temporary shelter. It is a secure, controlled-access apartment building that will provide safe, stable homes for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
You see these people on our streets every day, sometimes sleeping on sidewalks and in parks, or trespassing on local businesses. They are people that are our emergency responders and courts have dealt with for years — decades in some cases. Many experience mental illness and substance use disorders, and we must break the cycle of arrest-hospital-jail in order to more effectively respond to them. We cannot simply keep doing things the way we have been doing them.
For chronically homeless individuals in many communities, the Housing First model has had significant positive effects, including connecting them with drug and mental health treatment and providing them with job and life skills training. Housing First prioritizes placing people in stable, permanent housing, and then surrounding them with services and case management. Tenants sign leases, pay rent, and must follow the rules of their lease in order to maintain their housing.
For some of the residents, simply having a safe, secure home will provide enough stability for them to begin to seek treatment for mental illness and substance use. Others may take smaller steps. But they will have a bed to sleep in at night, a door to shut, and people watching out for them. They will be off our streets. Their impact — financial and otherwise — on the city and the community will be greatly reduced.
This is a concept that has not only been successful in Utah, but has been used throughout the country and throughout Washington state, in places like Bellingham, Spokane, Seattle and Olympia. Time and again communities are turning to this model because it is effective in meeting the goals our community has asked us to address: greater public safety, long-term solutions to complex issues of mental illness and substance use, and investing public resources in programs with proven track records.
We have already begun housing chronically homeless individuals in private rental units, and providing case management and services through the YWCA. Our progress has been slow — not for lack of effort by us, our partners or the tenants — but because of our incredibly low rental vacancy rate in Everett. The lack of available units underscores the need for a permanent, secured apartment facility solely for the chronically homeless.
I understand that this concept is new, and potentially unsettling, for some of our community members. I encourage you to learn more about what we’re doing and why this facility is important and needed in Everett. Visit our website, attend our upcoming community meetings, or join us for a bus tour to similar facilities.
Everett is not unique in facing these problems, and we still have a long way to go to address the challenges on our streets. I am proud of the progress that we’ve made, and I am grateful for the support we’ve had from the City Council and the broader community. It has been heartwarming to see how much our neighbors and business owners care and want to be a part of this effort.
The people on our streets are Everett residents, and members of our community. For their sake, and for the sake of our entire city, we must take action.
Ray Stephanson is the mayor of Everett.