Pinehurst residents really don’t want homeless housing nearby

EVERETT — People who live in central Everett packed a City Council meeting Wednesday to urge the council to stop a homeless housing project in their neighborhood.

Most of the attendees were adamantly against the project, accusing the council of a lack of communication or disregarding the views of the neighbors of Pinehurst-Beverly Park.

Tina Kuehn, who lives a block away from the city’s choice of site, tearfully told the council that the neighborhood can barely take control of its existing problems caused by drug use and vagrancy.

“I literally just put my house on the market because when I call the police, they don’t come,” Kuehn said.

The council is scheduled to vote Nov. 9 on the decision to build a 70-unit apartment building for homeless people on Berkshire Drive. Many in the room Wednesday said they felt this was their last chance to stop the project.

Aaron Powell, a resident of Elliott Way, a block away from the proposed site, said the neighborhood had finally turned into a more family-friendly area when the city’s decision was made.

With this project, he said, declining property values would make it difficult to leave.

“If this goes south, there is nowhere for them to go,” Powell said. “You guys have trapped us into this social experiment that may be evidence-based, but all neighborhoods are different.”

In May, the city selected the site of its Fire Training Academy, a block off Evergreen Way, as its preferred location for the building.

The move has drawn continued opposition from the residents of Pinehurst-Beverly Park, a neighborhood mostly composed of single- family homes to the east. Neighbors of the future site have planted yard signs, handed out leaflets at public events and stated their opposition to that location during previous City Council and other community meetings.

Leanne Roe, who lives in the nearby View Ridge-Madison neighborhood, said one of the main problems was that homeless people need a lot of services that aren’t available.

“None of those extra services that this population needs exists in this neighborhood,” Roe said. “Neither physical health care or mental health is in this neighborhood.”

The project is intended to house 70 of the most vulnerable of the city’s homeless population. It would provide access to social services on-site and is planned to be staffed around the clock.

Hil Kaman, Everett’s director of public health and safety, said all the research done to date showed that the site on Berkshire Drive is the best location for the apartment building. He also said that low-barrier housing is the best approach, and that Catholic Housing Services is the best provider of such services.

“We have decided as a community that it is not right to have people sleeping outside,” Kaman said.

Kaman said that since the site on Berkshire was chosen, the city began to take a hard look at other aspects of the neighborhood that could be improved, such as traffic, sidewalks and other amenities.

“We’re committed to improving the neighborhood,” he said.

The Berkshire Drive site was selected from among 37 locations. The others were rejected according to one or several reasons. They included being too small to hold a 70-unit building, being located too far from bus lines and other services, being too expensive or not being on the market, or even for having restrictive covenants or wetlands that reduced the amount of buildable space.

Not all the speakers Wednesday were opposed to the project. Some who had worked with homeless people in various capacities testified to the effectiveness of the Housing First model. They were a minority in the council chambers.

Delta resident Cydney Gillis, who used to write about homelessness for a Seattle newspaper, said she would have supported the facility even if it were in her neighborhood.

“Every person who ends up on the street is an individual who needs our attention and engagement, not a stereotype to be feared and shunned,” she said. “Housing First is not a social experiment, it’s housing with services.”

If the council votes to approve the resolution Nov. 9, it will allow the city staff and Catholic Housing Services to begin the environmental review process. That is the next step in developing the facility and includes its own required public notice and comment period.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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