Staci McCole and Kaitlyn Dowd unravel tangles. They find housing and drug treatment. They handle red tape. They navigate the mazes of social services. It’s all to help people — the ones most troubled or most in need — while supporting law enforcement and working to make Everett a safer place.
Dowd and McCole are social workers embedded with the Everett Police Department. They serve with Everett Police Sgt. Mike Braley on the department’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team. On Tuesday evening, they joined Braley at a “meet the social workers” gathering, one of the Everett Public Library’s Beyond the Streets events.
People in the library auditorium aired mixed reactions to the social worker program, which grew from the city’s Community Streets Initiative.
“I applaud you for what you’re doing,” said Michael Trujillo, who heads the Twin Creeks Neighborhood Association near Everett Mall. With Everett City Council members, Trujillo has toured an area homeless encampment. “We’re trying to look at them as people who need help,” he said.
Braley said he’s somewhat surprised by the positive reactions he has heard about the program, but added “just like anything not everybody is going to be happy.”
Aaron Powell expressed anger over what he sees as an approach that’s short on enforcement. “We’re being robbed and stolen blind by these zombies walking around,” Powell said. He lives near the Berkshire Drive site proposed by the city as a place to build low-barrier housing for homeless people.
Explaining the social worker effort, Braley said departments around the country, including in Santa Monica, California, have seen successes as police increasingly encounter people affected by addiction and mental health problems.
A social worker employed by the county’s Human Services Department was part of a year-long pilot program with Everett police. That ended in March 2016. Everett hired Dowd for the police team in June, and McCole joined the team in August.
“We understand people are working through addictions, but we’re still police. The team takes a balanced approach,” Braley said. “This gets people out of the courts and into social services.”
Often, Braley said, someone will call to report a panhandler or some other person in distress on the street. “They want us to do something about that situation, but the person may be doing nothing criminal,” he said. “There are people we have dealt with numerous times. They’ve been arrested, but that hasn’t changed their behavior.”
Dowd and McCole talked about meeting people on the streets, or staying in cars or makeshift homeless camps. Describing one sad scenario, Dowd spoke about being at an encampment with Everett Police Sgt. John Zeka and meeting a woman who had been homeless nearly a decade. She was pregnant and addicted to methamphetamine.
With the social worker’s help, the woman got into detox and treatment. The baby was born healthy. Dowd said that although the woman and her boyfriend haven’t stayed clean, the baby is not in their care and is doing well. And through the couple’s experience, one of their friends accepted help. He entered treatment, and is now employed and not abusing drugs, Dowd said.
Some addicts from local streets have been sent to treatment out of state. In May, the Everett Police Department announced that it had become a partner in the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). The national partnership, which includes health care organizations and businesses, helps police connect addicts with treatment facilities. In some cases, scholarships for the facilities are available when private insurance is not.
Everett police have helped a number of addicts enter residential treatment, including some at Bella Monte Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, California.
McCole, who has been a social worker at Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, said she helped a homeless man in his 50s work out financial issues and get into treatment for meth addiction. He now lives in clean-and-sober housing, she said. “I speak with him weekly,” she said. “He gave me a card that said ‘Thanks for believing in me.’ ”
In the back of the library auditorium, Ann Svensson raised her hand during the program.
“Thank you,” Svensson told the social workers and the police sergeant. “My son is homeless and addicted to heroin and meth. It gives me hope that one day he will run into you.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.