Arlington takes steps to solve homelessness, addiction

ARLINGTON — City leaders want to take inventory of local resources for people battling homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

The coordinator of Everett’s program for confronting homelessness, the Community Streets Initiative, has been hired as a consultant in Arlington. Julie Frauenholtz is gathering information and putting together recommendations for the Arlington City Council and staff to consider. The project is paid through a $25,000 grant from United Way.

The goal is to learn what services are available and what’s missing. The report also should identify where nonprofits, churches, police, healthcare providers and others have overlapping efforts.

“We don’t have an inventory of what’s available, at least not in a formal way, and we know there’s some tremendous work going on,” said Heather Logan, Arlington’s director of administrative services. “We want to know who’s doing what, when. Then we can have the conversation (about) what we can help solve.”

Along with gaining a clearer picture of services, it’s important for Arlington’s leaders to know how the public views these problems and how people want to solve them, Logan said.

An online survey is open until April 15. Anyone who spends time in Arlington is encouraged to participate.

The survey asks about people’s vision for Arlington in the next five years, and which services they feel are inaccessible for those who are struggling. Questions also delve into what folks feel are the biggest problems in Arlington, including homelessness, poverty, mental illness, drug addiction and, specifically, heroin addiction. Participants are asked whether they agree or disagree that it’s OK for people to have to travel to other cities for services, and whether they believe it’s the city’s or the community’s responsibility to address homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

The survey is online at tinyurl.com/ArlingtonCmtySurvey.

“From that survey, we’ll be able to see where the common ground is and maybe start there before we go to where there’s disagreement,” Frauenholtz said. “Every community needs to be learning about the realities and the complexities of mental illness and addiction.”

By finding out what people agree on, Arlington should have a good place to start, she said.

It’s easier to have hard conversations after taking some steps on common ground.

People tend to be divided about the causes of homelessness and addiction, and what should be done to help.

Many focus on transient homeless who move from city to city, and it can be easy to say the issue isn’t theirs to deal with if the people they see on the streets aren’t local, Frauenholtz said. But local people are affected, and homelessness and addiction have become everybody’s problem, she said. It can’t be solved by making assumptions.

“We have to remember that everybody’s story is different and we can’t make vast generalizations and put people in buckets,” she said. “We do that a lot as a society.”

Frauenholtz said she’s used her experience with Everett’s Community Streets Initiative, but Arlington is a different place.

Though the challenges are similar and many organizations provide services in both cities, Arlington has a unique blend of rural and urban neighborhoods. There are wooded roads on the fringes of the city, the old downtown, suburban neighborhoods such as Gleneagle and busy commercial and industrial areas, along with denser housing, near I-5 at Smokey Point.

People’s experiences with addiction, mental illness and homelessness are likely to vary from one neighborhood to the next. Those differences are part of what Frauenholtz wants to capture through surveys and conversations.

She expects to be done gathering information by the end of April and hopes to have a report ready for the city this summer.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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