The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Nehring proposes routine drug contamination testing for county shelters

After three shelters showed unsafe drug contamination — making them unusable — a proposal is headed to a public hearing Feb. 20.

EVERETT — Snohomish County may be required to test its shelters each year for drug contamination, under a new ordinance introduced Wednesday.

Council member Nate Nehring, a Republican, pitched the ordinance this week to target fentanyl, methamphetamine and other drug use in county-owned supportive housing. The ordinance would require annual testing for illicit drug and other hazardous chemical contamination at all housing locations.

“We want to make sure the health and safety of staff and tenants is prioritized,” Nehring said Thursday.

Council member Megan Dunn, a Democrat, said she wants to review and discuss Nehring’s latest ordinance with the council before taking a stance.

“I do have concerns that this will undermine our efforts to house people with dignity and get our residents necessary treatment,” she said in an email Thursday.

The announcement comes after supportive housing across the county, including Housing Hope apartments in Snohomish and Clare’s Place in Everett, tested positive for meth contamination. Some residents and workers alleged the contamination caused headaches, respiratory symptoms and other illness. In Washington, any property with levels of meth contamination at or above 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters is considered hazardous and requires state-certified decontamination.

“Contamination resulting from dangerous drug abuse has harmed residents and staff in these facilities,” Nehring said in a press release Wednesday. “This ordinance will ensure that Snohomish County is made aware of these issues if they arise and is able to act accordingly.”

Nehring worked with the county executive’s office, facilities and human services department to develop the ordinance.

The ordinance would apply to two former motels, Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in Edmonds and Days Inn in Everett, that the county purchased for about $13.7 million in 2022 to convert into supportive housing.

The motels, to be renamed New Start Centers, are intended provide temporary shelter without a hard deadline — tenants’ stay would depend on their circumstances. The county plans to help connect tenants to mental health and substance use disorder treatment as well as employment and legal services.

However, the opening date for the New Start Centers remains unknown. The motels tested positive for meth contamination above the state standard during the purchasing process. Over a year later, the decontamination process is ongoing.

Nehring warned against the county’s decision to purchase the motels, and proposed an ordinance requiring future tenants diagnosed with substance abuse disorder to participate in a drug treatment program. The ordinance failed 3-2 in a council vote, with those opposed, such as Dunn, arguing that treatment requirements would contradict the county’s low-barrier “Housing First” model.

“I was not supportive of purchasing the hotels,” Nehring said Thursday. “Now that they have been purchased, I want to do what I can legislatively to make sure they’re as successful as possible. One way to do that is by requiring annual testing.”

Nehring said he’s not aware of any other county that has a similar ordinance. He’s also not sure how often county properties would need to be decontaminated if the ordinance passed, or how long it would take. But decontamination at a property would likely be easier and cheaper with regular testing than if the county allowed it to become contaminated over years, he said.

“You could make the case that by doing this testing, we’re never going to be able to get these things on the road,” Nehring said. “But it’s better to have these lengthy, sometimes costly processes then to not know if it’s contaminated and have tenants and staff putting their health and safety at risk. I’d rather see us take a long time and get it right, then not do the appropriate testing and have negative impacts down the road.”

The council’s Public Infrastructure and Conservation Committee is set to discuss the ordinance Feb. 20. The council will then vote on the ordinance at a public hearing planned for March 20.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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