At Everett homelessness event, a plea to get involved

EVERETT — Two years ago, Everett’s Community Streets Initiative Task Force issued recommendations for confronting homelessness, addiction, mental illness and street-level crime.

On Tuesday, members of the task force provided a look at the progress made so far and what lies ahead.

More than that, though, it was an opportunity for Mayor Ray Stephanson to plead with people to get involved.

In 2014, Stephanson convened the task force. There were 23 representatives from the community, including churches, nonprofits, businesses and other groups. Its report listed 63 recommendations for the city to take either alone or with other local governments and organizations.

Those recommendations included changes to law enforcement procedures, coordination with a large number of social services agencies and a plan to build a 70-unit apartment building to house the most vulnerable of the city’s homeless population.

“Some of these solutions we’re working on are small changes,” Stephanson said. “Some of them, like building supportive housing, are more significant and require courage from our communities.”

That latter project has drawn the ire of people in the Pinehurst-Beverly Park neighborhood, who are opposed to having the apartment building put in their largely residential part of town. One public meeting held in early October degenerated into shouting and accusations that the city didn’t provide notice to the future neighbors of the project.

On Tuesday night, the event at the Historic Everett Theatre took the form of a series of short speeches from some task force members, as opposed to a public meeting with a comment period.

Cocoon House CEO Cassie Franklin, who sat on the task force before she was elected to the City Council, said that the lack of affordable housing throughout the region was the biggest barrier to tackling the problem of homelessness.

“Without housing, we’re running to stand still,” Franklin said.

Housing is the foundation for anyone hoping to recover from addiction, address mental illness or to turn his or her life around, she said.

“In our heart of hearts, we know it’s the right thing to do. Housed people are not homeless,” she said.

Alan Dorway, the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Everett, said seeing homeless people as “them” was a problem that needed to be addressed.

“Once we begin to see that dirty person or that bum as a neighbor, a whole new perspective opens up to us,” Dorway said.

Gene Martin, the first graduate of Everett’s CHART program, told the story of his journey from being a homeless alcoholic. The CHART program seeks to get those homeless people who draw on a disproportionate amount of services in the form of hospital stays, jail time and emergency responses into the treatment programs and other social services they need so they can begin returning to a more normal life.

“Today, I try to help others with the problem of drugs, alcohol and mental health,” Martin said. “I try to do the next right thing, and I hope you all try to do the next right thing.”

The response in the nearly full theater was polite and appreciative, with Martin drawing a standing ovation. Before the event, some people handed out leaflets outside the theater urging people to not support the city’s housing project.

Stephanson closed the evening listing various options to get involved, such as attending City Council meetings on Nov. 2 and Nov. 9. That’s when the council is scheduled to take action on the next steps for building the housing project. A list of places to donate time or money also is available on the city’s website at

After the meeting, Terri Amburgy, who lives in the Delta neighborhood, said she most appreciated the call to action.

“One of the things I was looking for, and it came at the very end, was what can I do when I come across someone on the street,” she said.

Amburgy’s neighbor Michael Hill said that he wished there had been flyers or handouts that he could have taken away to share in his community.

“There could have been reams of handouts,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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