EVERETT — Some were skeptical when they first heard about a plan to convert part of Snohomish County’s juvenile lockup into a drug and alcohol treatment center for adults.
The doubtful included County Councilman Sam Low, who expressed reservations about the idea when running for office two years ago.
Would youth at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center be exposed to added risks, he wondered. With the project more fully vetted, and moving ahead, Low said his fears have been allayed.
“Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to drive out to Denney several times, see the programs they’re doing there, tour the facility and see what they’re proposing,” he said. “I’m comfortable with what they’re doing. It’s two separate entrances. There’s not going to be any intermingling.”
The county approved a construction-management contract this month. The $15 million project could break ground next year and open in 2020 if all goes as planned.
The beds at Denney mostly sit empty.
The facility, along 10th Street in Everett’s Delta neighborhood, was built in the 1990s. At the time, county leaders assumed that the number of young people in custody would grow with the county’s overall population. That didn’t happen. Reforms in the juvenile justice system have channeled more kids into alternative programs instead of detention. Similar trends are occurring nationwide.
In Snohomish County, alternative pathways include juvenile drug court, remote monitoring and education programs.
“It’s because we’re doing good work with our kids in the community as well,” said Brooke Powell, the assistant administrator for juvenile court services in Snohomish County.
There’s space at Denney for 124 young offenders. On an average day last year, Powell said, there were about 16.
Some of the extra space might help in the fight against opioid addiction and homelessness among adults.
The lack of open beds in drug treatment programs is one of the most bedeviling obstacles for police, social workers and medical personnel dealing with the problem. As a result, people who need treatment often wind up in emergency rooms or in jail, at great public expense.
The Denney facility is one of several approaches to addressing those issues.
The county earlier this year opened a 44-bed diversion center on the north side of the jail in downtown Everett to help steer people off the streets. People can stay there for up to 15 days, as they seek treatment, stable housing or other services.
Work also is progressing to turn the former Carnegie Library building on Oakes Avenue, next door to the jail, into a hub for social services. That could open as early as this fall.
The county is pursuing the Denney project with the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization, which covers a five-county area.
Given the shortage of nearby options, people often must travel to Eastern Washington for treatment.
That increases transportation costs and makes it harder to keep people connected with their local support systems, according to a funding request from the behavioral health organization.
The county project would house two programs with 16 beds each. That helps comply with federal funding rules restricting the number of beds.
The facility would focus on people who are considered indigent, low-income or working poor. Operations would be funded by Medicaid reimbursements, said Cammy Hart-Anderson, a division manager in the county’s Human Resources Department. People would have to detox before being admitted.
The treatment facility would take up just a small portion of Denney’s 106,000 square feet. With a 9,000-square-foot addition to the existing building, it would total about 23,000 square feet.
The design aims to make sure that people in each facility would be unable to see or hear one another, Hart-Anderson said. The entrances for juveniles and adults would be on different sides of the building.
The County Council earlier this month authorized a $468,000 contract with OAC Services of Seattle to manage the project. Construction bids are expected to go out early next year, county facilities director Mark Thunberg said.
The bulk of the funding comes from $12 million in the state capital budget, the other $3 million from the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization.