Megan Dunn, left, and Georgia Fisher

Megan Dunn, left, and Georgia Fisher

County Council candidates differ sharply on solutions to homelessness

Megan Dunn hopes to keep a progressive tilt to the council. Georgia Fisher advocates for a choice between drug treatment or jail time.

EVERETT — When Megan Dunn was elected to the Snohomish County Council as a Democrat in 2019, she expected to have a term focused on environmental policy and affordable housing.

Then, the county was confronted with a pandemic, increased homelessness and a spike in drug overdoses.

Now, the position is up for election.

Her challenger, Republican Georgia Fisher, wants the council to move to the right, citing disappointment in decisions the council has made on public safety.

The current council is comprised of two Republicans and three Democrats. This race will determine if the council will tilt progressive or conservative.

District 2 covers Everett, Mukilteo and Tulalip.

In the August primary election, Dunn received 59.7% of the vote. Fisher garnered 32.5%.

The four-year term pays $137,329.54 annually. Ballots are due Nov. 7.

Megan Dunn

Dunn, who lives in Everett, is proud of the work she’s done on the council so far.

Dedicating money to substance abuse treatment and addressing climate change are her stated accomplishments.

Looking forward, she wants to continue her work on addressing homelessness. She believes to come up with solutions, it is important to understand the issue’s roots.

“The majority of people that are homeless, based on our point-in-time count, are there because of economic reasons,” she said. “We don’t have enough (housing) to keep up with demand.”

Dunn said the council is looking at “smaller fixes,” like increasing housing density along transit routes and allowing for more density with detached and attached accessory dwelling units.

She thinks more emergency shelter space is needed. The county purchased two hotels in 2022 using one-time federal funds — and that was a start, she said.

Dunn thinks there need to be more treatment options, both in and out of the criminal justice system.

“Its very hard to get (people) into treatment right away,” she said. “We either don’t have enough locally or we don’t have a detox bed first.”

Dunn said the county’s new housing and behavioral health sales tax has funded more treatment. The council voted 3-2, along party lines, to approve the 0.1% sales tax in 2021.

“We are finally committing to this and showing that this problem is real,” she said.

More embedded social workers can reach people in need of treatment, by making the rounds on the streets and on public transit, Dunn said.

“When you have those direct interactions, you’re building trust and you’re able to reach people that are maybe in active addiction and they just need help,” she said.

“Ninety-five percent” of what the council votes on has been unanimous, Dunn said.

“But where you’ve seen critical votes go down party lines have all been around social issues,” she said.

If the council swings conservative?

“You will no longer see solutions,” she said.

Her campaign has raised over $53,000.

Georgia Fisher

Fisher, a Mukilteo resident and retired longtime Boeing employee, said she entered the race to focus on economic growth and “maximize the potential” of local industry.

She said Snohomish County has the potential to expand the number of high-paying jobs and keep workers here, rather than seeing them commute to King County.

Once she started campaigning, it became clear homelessness and public safety far outweighed her initial priorities.

“If a person doesn’t feel safe walking out their front door, that consumes every part of their life, and that is where we are in Everett,” she said.

Fisher favors a “treatment first” approach over the “housing first” model when addressing homelessness.

Under “treatment first,” people must get sober before getting housing.

Dunn favors “housing first.”

Fisher said there are “few” homeless people without a substance use disorder. Their homelessness is “generally temporary,” she said.

She opposed the purchase of two hotels in Everett and Edmonds to temporarily house people, arguing the shelters only “hide people away,” since there isn’t a sobriety or drug treatment requirement.

“It’s not compassionate care,” she said. “We have to get them in treatment.”

Fisher supports what she calls the “carrot-and-stick approach” to getting people into treatment. Police should offer treatment or jail time to people arrested for drug allegations.

One problem in getting people into treatment, she said, is they must commit themselves voluntarily. Fisher said offering a choice between treatment or jail will hopefully convince people to get sober.

“I want a stronger police presence and I want more police involvement with community,” she said.

On the council, Fisher said she would vote with the two conservative members, Nate Nehring and Sam Low.

Fisher has raised nearly $22,000 for her campaign.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the locations of the county-owned hotels and the name of the housing and behavioral health sales tax.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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