EVERETT — The city’s mayoral candidates took questions about potential policies to address services for those living with mental illnesses and addiction during a scheduled forum Tuesday night — a day after a homeless veteran attacked another man near the Everett Gospel Mission on Smith Avenue.
The victim’s condition was critical and his prognosis was uncertain, Everett police said Tuesday. The suspect, who has been arrested multiple times near the mission, allegedly told police the victim asked telepathically to be kicked in the head. The suspect has a history of mental illness, according to court papers.
The patient “has a major mental disorder that is long-standing in duration and which receives inadequate treatment in the community,” a mental health professional wrote in 2015. “The nature of his symptoms brings him into inevitable contact with legal authorities.”
Tuesday’s forum, bringing together candidates Cassie Franklin and Judy Tuohy, was sponsored by the Snohomish County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The nonprofit advocates for people living with mental illnesses and their families. It provides free support groups and classes. The group also works with others to promote awareness about mental illness and eliminate stigmas.
It has hosted community forums on various topics in the past, including a panel discussion with Snohomish County Jail officials. Tuesday’s event was the first political forum the group has organized.
Franklin and Tuohy are facing off in November’s general election, vying to replace longtime Mayor Ray Stephanson. Both women are on the City Council. Local business owner Gary Watts is running as a write-in candidate.
He didn’t participate in Tuesday’s forum.
Franklin is the CEO of Cocoon House, a nonprofit that runs shelters and other services for homeless youth. Tuohy is the executive director of the Schack Art Center in Everett.
About 70 people attended Tuesday night’s event. The candidates were asked about their positions on low-barrier housing, crisis intervention training for police and other city staff, as well as how as mayor they would work to reduce stigmas for those living with mental illness.
Part of the city’s agenda in recent years has focused on ways to tackle some social issues, such as homelessness and addiction, and the impacts they have on emergency services, the criminal justice system and quality of life in Everett’s neighborhoods.
Lisa Utter is the executive director of the county’s chapter of NAMI. The group has been paying attention to the actions taken by city leaders, she said. Utter pointed to Everett’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, a powerful prescription drug. The city wants the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company to help offset the cost of addressing the opioid crisis. She also mentioned the city’s Community Streets Initiative, which developed recommendations to address some of the chronic problems gobbling up city resources.
There has been a lot of focus on homelessness, Utter said. “It’s the sore that everyone can see.”
The group wanted the mayoral candidates to talk about their plans for some of the underlying issues that can contribute to people living on the street, including mental illness and addiction, Utter said.
Everett, the largest city in Snohomish County, is home to many of the county’s social services. “The city’s policies impact the whole county,” Utter said.
Franklin said she would support the city creating its own human services department, while Tuohy said the city should continue to support the community service providers already in place.
Franklin said she supports the county’s efforts to create a jail diversion center that could reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the county jail.
Tuohy said it is up to the city to press state and federal government officials to provide more resources to pay for adequate mental health treatment services.
The women were asked how they see balancing the needs for public safety with helping those living with mental illness, addiction and those who are homeless.
“I believe they go hand in hand,” Tuohy said. “Every citizen has the right feel safe.” She said it’s important that the police department be fully staffed and that the region look at opening a day center for those living on the streets.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” Franklin said. “We need to connect everyone we can with services and doing as much outreach as possible. We also need to use those enforcement tools we have. Sometimes that’s the nudge for folks to getting into services as well.”
The forum was moderated by Earl Martin, a counselor and human development instructor at Everett Community College.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.