EVERETT — A proposal to renovate the former Carnegie Library into transitional housing for the homeless received a boost from the state.
Legislators allocated $1.34 million from the state’s capital budget for the project, which is being called the Rapid Recidivism Reduction Center. The county will still need to raise about $600,000 to complete the $2.1 million in renovations.
“This is a wonderful starting point to create a place where we’re helping people put their lives back together,” said Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, the director of Snohomish County Human Services.
The proposal calls for creating a place that provides temporary housing and social services for people released from jail for nonviolent crimes, or as an alternative to the county lockup.
The plan is to build 20 bedrooms with shared living spaces on one floor. The second floor will house mental health, substance abuse and job training services. Staff also will help participants sign up for health insurance, connect them with a primary care doctor and refer them to other community services.
It is expected to cost about $1.2 million a year to run the program. That money will come from local sales tax already collected and specifically earmarked for substance abuse and mental health services, and from county fees for marriage licenses and other services.
Most of the participants are expected to qualify for public health care, which would reimburse the county for drug and alcohol addiction programs and mental health services.
Proponents say the center will help reduce costly trips to emergency rooms and calls to 911. It also will be aimed at decreasing the number of people living on the streets, many who are mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or both.
“We want to avoid jail and prison if at all possible but if they happen to serve time, we want to make sure it’s only once,” said Keith, the president of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Finding long-term housing is one of the biggest challenges facing people being released from jail. Last year, the county conducted a series of interviews with three dozen jail inmates to look at poverty conditions among those incarcerated. More than half reported having been homeless in the past year. Nearly 28 percent were homeless when they were booked into the jail and 22 percent said they anticipated not having anywhere to live once they were released.
Nearly half of the inmates surveyed didn’t have regular health care and about 22 percent said they use hospital emergency rooms to get routine medical services.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary endorses the project. He’s been vocal about changing how the community uses the jail. It’s been used as the county’s de facto mental health facility and detox center for too long, Trenary has said.
The average stay in the housing unit likely would be about 90 days, Brell Vujovic said.
The county will be working with its community partners, such as those who provide behavioral health services, and with Everett and those involved with its Community Streets Initiative.
It could take up to two years for the center to open. The county says it plans to maintain the historical integrity of the building.
The Carnegie building was constructed in 1905 to house the city’s library, which moved out in 1934. The building later housed a funeral parlor and there was some talk of turning it into a museum.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been vacant for several years and was last used to house the jail’s work release program.