Robert Smiley of The Hand Up Project hands out hand sanitizer on March 26, 2020 in downtown Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Robert Smiley of The Hand Up Project hands out hand sanitizer on March 26, 2020 in downtown Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Amid investigation, Lynnwood-based Hand Up Project ousts founder

Edmonds canceled a contract with the nonprofit that helps homeless people amid fraud allegations against Robert Smiley.

EDMONDS — The Hand Up Project, a local nonprofit with the aim of helping people struggling with substance abuse and homelessness, ousted its founder Tuesday amid a fraud investigation.

The nonprofit noted its Board of Directors had “recently became aware of information which led to the organization’s termination of its relationship with Robert and Theresa Smiley.” Robert Smiley founded the organization. His wife Theresa Smiley was the treasurer, according to tax filings.

“After a thorough review — both internally and by external third parties — any actions by Mr. Smiley were solely his and had no relation or effect on any of our community offerings,” the organization wrote on its website. “While we are deeply saddened by these events, The Hand Up Project is now in a better position to execute its mission of affirming the inherent value of all people.”

What Smiley’s actions were remained unclear Wednesday. The nonprofit declined to comment further on the specific reason for Smiley’s exit.

“This is a really difficult time for our organization, board, and nearly 20 employees,” the organization wrote in an email. “Because of federal and state laws, we cannot discuss specific employee’s situations. What we will say, however, is that we are sincere in our mission … regardless of circumstances. This includes Mr. Smiley, especially in this difficult time. We are hoping Mr. Smiley receives the help he needs.”

The Hand Up Project and Smiley had been lauded for years for helping people struggling with addiction through sober housing. Smiley, sober from cocaine and previously homeless, had been an outspoken advocate in Snohomish County for people living with addiction and without housing. His work has been featured in The Daily Herald many times.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office “received allegations of fraud related to this nonprofit,” spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said in an email Wednesday. Detectives were investigating this week.

Smiley didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Lindsey Arrington, who often worked with Smiley through another nonprofit similar to The Hand Up Project, and Pat Slack, the former commander of the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, wrote they “will always support Robert and his unwavering commitment to giving people a hand up.”

“We are all human, and we may not always navigate struggles gracefully, but Robert Smiley is genuinely a servant leader through and through regardless of this outcome,” Arrington and Slack wrote. “When he is able, Robert will gladly speak on his own behalf with integrity and accountability. For now, we’d ask the community to pray for him and hold loving thoughts towards him. We appreciate The Hand Up Project’s continued support of Robert and Theresa and respect of their privacy. We hope that others will be respectful and supportive as well.”

The news came the same day the City of Edmonds canceled an agreement with The Hand Up Project, citing “recent information discovered regarding the organization’s founder.” A city spokesperson declined to comment further.

The $20,000 annual agreement signed Feb. 9 was for cleaning up homeless encampments and providing help to residents in need, public records show. Less than a week after the city publicly announced the contract, Edmonds backed out. No work had been done and no city funding was paid to the organization, according to officials.

In the past, elected officials applauded Smiley’s work. A local state representative called him one of the “heroes that actually make people believe in themselves.”

“We are recovering addicts and alcoholics ourselves. We know these people,” Smiley told The Herald in 2020. “Our whole focus is to hold their hand — walk them through all these processes.”

The Hand Up Project, based near Lynnwood in south Snohomish County, reported it had gotten over 1,000 people into drug treatment and disposed of over 10,000 needles in encampment cleanups. It has also managed emergency shelter motel rooms in Everett, providing case managers and connecting people with long-term housing. This program, called Respite, had secured permanent housing for nearly 90% of its clients, according to the organization.

In October, the nonprofit signed a contract with the City of Monroe to use federal funds to help homeless families in six rooms at a Monroe hotel, public records show. The two-year agreement was worth over $200,000.

“People want help and the help is there,” Smiley told The Herald last year.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439;; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

Talk to us

More in Local News

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Craig Hess (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)
Sultan’s new police chief has 22 years in law enforcement

Craig Hess was sworn in Sep. 14. The Long Island-born cop was a first-responder on 9/11. He also served as Gold Bar police chief.

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Woman killed in crash on Highway 99 in Lynnwood

Police closed off Highway 99 between 188th Street SW and 196th Street SW while they investigated.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Most Read