Gene Martin sips coffee before leaving for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Gene Martin sips coffee before leaving for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Everett’s initiative to tackle homelessness starting to pay off

EVERETT — Everett’s attempt to get control of its chronic problems with homelessness are starting to yield concrete results.

More people are obtaining treatment for their addictions or mental health problems, finding homes and getting jobs.

This has been the result of stepped-up police patrols, more involvement with social service providers and the introduction of new programs in the Everett Municipal Court.

Gene Martin, a formerly homeless alcoholic, is now working as a janitor in Bothell thanks in large part to the city’s intervention on his behalf.

Martin said it’s been at least five years since he’s had a real job with a paycheck, even if it’s a long commute by bus, the work is hard and the pay isn’t very good.

“I’m really happy to be back at work,” he said. “It gives me some self-respect.”

He was once one of a handful of people identified as a chronic utilizer of emergency services. The city continues to focus on others.

“These 15 have such a disproportionate impact on criminal justice, emergency rooms, the fire department, that they inhibit our ability to work with other people who need to be in those systems,” said Hil Kaman, Everett’s lead prosecutor.

Kaman told Martin’s story, and provided other data, to the Everett Streets Initiative task force, which reconvened Tuesday for its third update since it issued its report 18 months ago.

Since the task force completed its primary work in late 2015, Mayor Ray Stephanson launched the Safe Streets Plan to start enacting the task force’s 63 recommendations.

Martin’s route back to stability ran through the municipal court’s Mental Health Alternatives Program, which allows participants to avoid jail time if they take part in treatment programs.

A total of 11 people have graduated from the program so far. Those 11 accounted for more than 100 arrests prior to enrolling in the mental health program. So far there have been only two arrests among graduates, Kaman said.

Martin also remained in contact with the program after his graduation, using his experience as an example to other people who might benefit from it.

He talks to people at his regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but also has met with people in the hospital.

“I just went up there and consoled them a little bit, let them know there’s a better life out there than drugging or drinking,” Martin said.

Everett’s approach to tackling its street-level problems has three prongs focusing on enforcement, outreach and housing.

On the enforcement side, a new unit has been created within the Everett Police Department that will include two social workers.

The city hopes to have the new social workers hired by the end of May, city communications director Meghan Pembroke said.

The force has stepped up patrols, logging almost 12,000 hours of regular duty and overtime in the past year and a half downtown and around the Everett Gospel Mission, Police Chief Dan Templeman said.

The city also has been increasing patrols in the city’s south end, he said.

“What we’re starting to see is migration of some of this activity,” Templeman said.

Police officers have recorded 7,600 contacts and made 538 arrests in the past 18 months, he said.

Templeman pointed out that, overall, there’s still a long way to go.

“This is not going to be an issue we’re going to arrest our way out of,” he said.

The city is also starting a program to send some addicts to long-term treatment centers around the country through the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, a nonprofit based in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Five people have been enrolled in that program, which is free to the participant if they don’t have insurance to cover the treatment, Templeman said.

The city’s Chronic- Utilizer Alternative Response Team, which brings together police, health care and social service providers, has had a significant effect, said Robin Fenn, the research manager for Snohomish County Human Services.

For the first six people the team identified, the number of contacts with emergency medical services dropped 80 percent, from 175 contacts before the team stepped in to 34 contacts in the six months following.

Similar reductions were noted in other areas: Police department arrests for CHART participants dropped 80 percent from 31 to six in that time frame, and the number of days spent in jail dropped 92 percent, from 542 total days before down to 43.

David Hall, the deputy city attorney, said the city also is moving forward with its plans to house 20 people in scattered units of low-barrier housing and to build a 70-unit permanent facility with on-site social services.

Ed Petersen, the chief strategic officer of Housing Hope who served on the task force, said he was impressed with the momentum the initiative has kept over the past 18 months.

He pointed out, however, that the biggest need will continue to be raising enough money to fund everything.

“We need to engage the public will to complete this work,” Petersen said. “This problem can’t be solved by moving the puzzle pieces around.”

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

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