EVERETT — The Everett City Council is reconsidering how to support people living on the streets but members disagree over which tactics to employ.
In a discussion during Wednesday’s regular meeting, two council members who will not be in office next year proposed taking a more stringent approach to some people experiencing homelessness.
“When we make this a softer place to land for individuals who do not seek help, they will land here,” Councilman Jeff Moore said, referring to people who decline offers from city employees to enter health treatment and housing programs.
Everett Community Development Director Julie Willie said staff and partners have contacted over 450 people without stable, permanent shelter in the past year. In the 2020 Snohomish County Point in Time Homeless count — the last full evaluation due to the pandemic scuttling this year’s tally — there were 673 unsheltered people, Snohomish County Human Services Director Mary Jane Brell Vujovic said. Of that total, 190 last had a permanent residence in Everett and 300 had slept in the city the night before the count.
Most of the people contacted in 2020, about 74%, said their last known residence was in Snohomish County.
But a recent surge of people experiencing homelessness in Everett is in part due to an influx of people who have come from other cities, which has led to more encampments with hazards such as human waste, rodents and trash, Willie said.
“We didn’t have adequate shelter or services before the pandemic,” which has exacerbated the need for both, Willie said, later asking for resources proportionate to the challenge and coordination with other cities and the county.
But some policy makers questioned how the city should respond to the ongoing health and housing crises.
Councilman Scott Bader said Everett should focus on enforcement that pushes people who refuse health and housing services.
“I think there’s a sense of generosity in our residents, but they shouldn’t have to put up with the squalor in these encampments,” he said, describing the sites as a safety concern for the people living there and neighbors whom he characterized as “disproportionately” dealing with the effects. “I am ready to propose more no-sit, no-lie zones.”
In February, Bader proposed linking the city’s first small shelter village of 20 units to a “no-sit, no-lie” ordinance that criminalizes lying or sitting on sidewalks or streets in a 10-block area east of Broadway. All of those tiny homes are 64 square feet, except one that is 100 square feet for the site supervisor. Each has a bed, door, windows, shelving and storage.
That ordinance passed on a 5-1 vote, with Councilwoman Liz Vogeli the lone no vote and Moore absent, despite concerns from advocates for unsheltered people and a national legal group that questioned the law’s constitutionality.
The tiny homes program opened in early July, with each unit claimed and a wait list of 60 people at the time. It remains full and had its first turnover, Willie said.
“If you don’t want people living on the streets, there has to be abundant, affordable housing for people in all shapes and sizes,” Vogeli said.
Some people who decline services have received them before but it didn’t work out that time, often because their behavioral or mental health conditions are challenges, Willie said. Even if they wanted to begin a treatment program or move into a shelter, there isn’t enough of either now.
“We will never solve homelessness, but we should be able to house 450 people,” Mayor Cassie Franklin said.
Moore said the city’s decisions come down to money, especially because of the structural budget deficit and the ongoing crisis of homelessness.
Willie said she plans to bring a suite of strategies to the City Council in the coming months.