SMOKEY POINT — The north Snohomish County embedded social worker program is showing positive results, connecting people with services and reducing crime.
That was the consensus of elected leaders, police chiefs and social workers during a panel discussion Tuesday in Smokey Point.
A year ago, the county expanded the sheriff’s Office of Neighborhoods to Arlington and Marysville. For the program, social workers and law enforcement team up to connect people experiencing homelessness and addiction or mental health issues with services.
“It’s not just a homelessness problem, it’s a problem with mental health, it’s a problem with addiction,” Sheriff Ty Trenary said. “We’ve created … a whole new approach to handling this issue.”
Crime related to homelessness is decreasing and people coming through this program are getting help, Trenary added.
Speakers praised the partnerships between the county, Marysville and Arlington that propelled the new approach.
Searching for people who might be willing to accept help is only the first task for the teams of social workers and law enforcement. They also provide rides to appointments, basic necessities such as shoes and assistance with signing up for medical care or getting identification cards.
In the first year, the Arlington team had just over 900 encounters with people experiencing homelessness, according to city data. Of that group, 110 were new clients, 33 completed detox and 24 finished a treatment program.
In Marysville, the combined social worker and law enforcement unit made more than 1,500 contacts last year, equating to 233 new clients. Eighty people were placed into treatment and just over half graduated from the program, according to Police Chief Rick Smith.
The teams have seen a lot of success stories, said Britney Sutton, the social worker in Arlington.
When one man was ready to accept help, he knew that the team needed to take him from the jail right to the county’s Diversion Center, otherwise he would start using again, Sutton said.
“He’s now over a year clean and sober,” she said. “Now instead of stealing from Arlington, he works in Arlington, he pays taxes in Arlington.”
The county opened the 44-bed Diversion Center in the middle of last year. It provides a place for the social worker and law enforcement teams to bring people experiencing homelessness as they wait to be connected housing or treatment. The center was envisioned as a launching pad to get people out of homeless encampments and connected to longer-term services.
Clients cannot come and go from the center, but are free to leave anytime. Last year, it served 377 people, 42 percent of whom were connected to a treatment or a detox program, according to data from the county. About a third choose to leave. Housing was found for just over 15 percent. Numbers from 2019 show similar results.
The manager of the Smokey Point Walmart Supercenter, Brock Caskey, spoke about customers who felt unsafe coming to the store. But since the program launch, and an increase in security at the store, there has been a 33 percent reduction in thefts, he said. The landscape has also been redone to discourage people from loitering, he said.
Walmarts can be used as a barometer because the stores can attract illicit activities, said Jonathan Ventura, Arlington’s police chief.
He said police responses to the store dropped 24 percent since the program started.
“We are making a difference,” Ventura said. “We haven’t reached the finish line, but I’m very happy with where we are going.”