EVERETT — For two nights in a row this week, the basement of Hope Church was chock-full of neighbors and county leaders caught in tense civil discourse — and at times, not-so-civil.
Snohomish County is considering buying the church property at 4502 Rucker Ave. to convert it into a low-barrier homeless shelter for about 40 people.
Word spread like wildfire when the county initiated community outreach about the potential project this week.
More than 100 people attended the nearly three-hour meeting Wednesday. The room was chaotic. People spoke over one another. They shouted. They cried. They didn’t let a county official finish his presentations. Accusations flew about back-door deals.
Opponents argued that putting a homeless shelter at the church — in a neighborhood near the YMCA and the new Emma Yule Park — could put kids in danger. They angrily condemned county officials for potentially bringing “drug addicts” closer to their children. They also questioned the necessity of more low-barrier housing in Everett, among other things.
“It’s an emotional thing for our whole community,” said Angela Bowers, 34, who lives about a quarter mile from the site. She carried her 2-year-old on one hip and her 4-year-old on the other during the meeting. “These are our babies.”
Supporters urged compassion, saying those facing homelessness need the chance “to have a roof over their head and food in their belly” before they can work toward getting sober, finding jobs and securing permanent housing. People need to feel worthy and like a part of this community before healing happens, urged supporters, often teary-eyed.
“‘Not in my backyard’ is not an answer, because we all live here,” said Mary Rollins, a public policy professional who lives in the Glacier View neighborhood near the church. “I have been homeless two times — once with children. Maybe if I’d had access to a place like this, we wouldn’t have been homeless so long.”
Many attendees just had questions. Undecided about the project, they had just come to see what the hubbub was about.
Several Snohomish County officials spoke Wednesday: Director of Human Services Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, Human Services Planner Tyler Verda, Chief of Staff Alessandra Durham and County Council member Megan Dunn.
Here are the facts, based on questions and answers Wednesday.
Background on the Hope Church property
The homelessness crisis in the region is dire, so the county has been trying to find solutions.
Since 2019, the county has funded a 40-bed congregate shelter out of the United Church of Christ’s basement. That downtown shelter was never meant to operate on a long-term basis, and they’ve been looking for a replacement. The lease is up in June.
In October 2022, “the City of Everett administration asked the County to evaluate the Hope Covenant Church as a possible replacement location,” according to county officials.
From January to March, the county negotiated with Hope Church to assess the property and its potential options. The county could move forward with using the property as the replacement to the downtown shelter. Another option is to make it a shelter from extreme weather.
So-called “climate shelters” open when temperatures drop below freezing or above 100 degrees, or when an intense storm is in the forecast.
At this point, the property has not been purchased, and its potential uses have yet to be defined.
The county has made other moves to create more shelter space recently.
Last fall, the county used one-time funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to buy two motels to convert into low-barrier shelters, where drug treatment would not be required for residents. The decision met both backlash and support. The total price tag of $13.7 million dropped by $1.6 million when both motels — the Days Inn at 1602 SE Everett Mall Way in Everett and the Americas Best Value Inn and Suites at 22127 Highway 99 — were found to be contaminated by methamphetamine.
‘Currently, where is the county at in this project?’
After the initial negotiations, the county entered its second phase of the plan Saturday: community outreach.
Verda said he knocked on doors within 1,000 feet of the property to explain the proposal and gather public sentiment. Tuesday marked the first public meeting about the potential sale. More meetings were scheduled for noon Friday and 5:30 p.m. Monday.
“We’re really only on day two of community outreach,” Verda said. “We appreciate civil dialogue, and there is still much discussion to be had.”
City and county officials alike stressed that this is a “piece of the puzzle” in alleviating homelessness in Everett and Snohomish County.
“As a city, we are supportive of new strategies and efforts to increase shelter and provide services to those in need,” said Simone Tarver, a spokesperson for the city of Everett. “At the same time, we also need to ensure our businesses’ and residents’ needs and concerns are taken into consideration and that any potential negative impacts are mitigated.”
‘What is the timeline moving forward, and who would make the decision to purchase?’
To purchase the property, Snohomish County Council would need to approve the deal.
To do that, the council would need to schedule its own public hearings on the matter, and it’s required to give at least two weeks notice. Attendees can express their opposition or support. Then there would be a final vote.
No votes or council hearings have been scheduled.
If the council were to approve the purchase, there would be a 60-day due diligence period before it became official.
‘Is this a done deal already?’
The county is still in the first stages of this project.
“It looks like it’s a done deal — like the transaction has already happened,” one man said. Many attendees nodded and expressed similar sentiments.
But each county official echoed the same answer: No, this is not a done deal, they repeated.
‘Why is this location ideal to replace the downtown shelter?’
County officials considered about 12 sites across all of Snohomish County, visiting sites and making evaluations. Most of the sites required costly renovations. The county searched up and down Evergreen Way, on the other side of I-5, in Monroe, Marysville, Edmonds and so on.
Brell Vujovic said none of the other buildings were available or feasible. All other options were either too expensive, too remote or too small.
Hope Church, they said, was their best option for a few reasons.
First, the building is in great condition. It would not cost the county millions of dollars in repairs and months of time to update.
Second, they were able to negotiate a reasonable price.
Third, the property is close to public transit, which is preferable for those who don’t own cars.
Finally, it’s a good size. There is space for people, storage and wraparound services.
‘How much will this cost, and who’s paying?’
County officials didn’t have a confirmed figure to buy the property or run services, but Brell Vujovic gave a rough estimate for the whole project at around $1.5 million.
At least a portion of the bill would be paid through remaining one-time funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
‘Are there any official documents between Hope Church and the County?’
As of Wednesday, the only written document regarding the potential purchase is a memorandum of understanding, Dunn said.
The memo communicates that the county is interested in purchasing the property, but it will not move forward until after this community outreach phase.
‘Will public safety measures be increased?’
This question was asked in a multitude of ways throughout the evening.
Officials assured the public that safety would be a top priority, citing that 75% of the county’s annual budget goes toward public safety.
‘Will sex offenders be allowed in?’
“We would work to determine, if legal, how to prevent sex offenders registered in publicly available databases from utilizing the facility,” said Kelsey Nyland, spokesperson for the office of Recovery and Resilience.
‘What about the 41st or 100th person who shows up and can’t get housed when the beds are full?’
“There’s no magic answer,” Brell Vujovic said.
‘Is there a website to learn more?’
Correction: Only the Snohomish County Council would need to approve the purchase. An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the Everett City Council would need to approve it, too.