EVERETT — Inci Yarkut, an Everett police officer, knocked gently on the entrance to a tent pitched near Silver Lake Wednesday morning after the rain had cleared. The unauthorized encampment, nestled along the I-5 sound wall, was noticed earlier that day by park rangers. Trash and bike parts covered the site.
The man who appeared at the tarp door was a familiar face to Kelli Roark, a social worker embedded with the police department. Once again he refused her offer of help.
“Persistence is the key,” Yarkut said. “Sometime down the line he’ll be in a different place.”
The pair was accomplishing two tasks that morning, checking on newly spotted homeless encampments and escorting a volunteer collecting data for the Point-in-Time count. For the annual survey of the homeless population in Snohomish County, hundreds of participants, a mix of volunteers and social service providers, scattered to points around the county.
Yarkut and Roark, who form one of Everett’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Teams (COET), often don’t have the time to search for encampments and offer services to those they find.
With a new tool — the Diversion Center near the courthouse in downtown Everett — most of their energy is spent tracking and supporting those who have already asked for help.
“Our success rate and the ability to get people treatment has doubled. I’m a lot busier now,” Roark said about the center. “Our program is starting to be well-known in Snohomish County. We are starting to get referrals from past clients.”
The Diversion Center, which is run by the county, is envisioned as a launching pad to get people out of homeless encampments and connected to longer-term services.
Roark spends most of her day on the phone with various service providers as Yarkut drives between appointments and monitors the police scanner.
“We’re pretty much juggling balls all day,” Yarkut added.
Some clients require a ride to a medical appointment. Many are in need of help obtaining a new ID.
On the day of the Point-in-Time count, they were canvassing around Silver Lake, where the unauthorized camps were set to be cleared out in coming days.
“Their question is, ‘Where do I go?’” Yarkut said. “It’s a vicious cycle. There are no beds. They are trespassing. But there still are no beds.”
Nathan Jensen and his brother were among the people living in a park near the lake.
As Yarkut and Roark approached their encampment, the men were hauling out bags of trash and belongings from a damp wooded area they had cleared.
Jensen, with plastic bags lining his shoes, said they had yet to decide where they would go next.
“I thought they were going to be easy ones,” Yartuk said.
But here they were, a year into homelessness after they both lost jobs, and continuing to struggle with an addiction. Jensen had tried detoxing at the Diversion Center, but he said a delay in getting medication caused him to leave. He’d like to try again but wants to know there would be housing available between detox and waiting for a bed in a treatment facility.
“I’m not wanting to be homeless then (because) I won’t have the comfort from drugs,” he said.
Roark remains optimistic about the brothers.
“They aren’t saying they won’t, so let’s find them a way they can,” she said.
Last year’s Point-in-Time count found 858 people were without a permanent home. Of those, 378 were without shelter, 364 were in emergency shelters, and 116 were in transitional housing across the county. They ranged in age from 5 days to 76 years.
The count represents a snapshot of those experiencing homelessness but doesn’t capture the entire population, said Dani Gentry, a supervisor at Catholic Community Services.
“We always pray for better weather, because there is a slightly better chance to find more people,” she said.
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @lizzgior.