County diversion center opens soon for homeless addicts

A temporary infusion of state money will get the pilot program launched next month in Everett.

EVERETT — In a few weeks, the doors of the Snohomish County Diversion Center will open to homeless men and women looking to beat their addiction, get treatment for their mental health needs and re-establish their footing in society.

County officials are gearing up for a launch sometime in April after the area’s delegation of lawmakers secured $800,000 for the pilot program in the state supplemental budget they approved March 8.

“We’re very pleased and thankful to the Legislature for providing us with those dollars,” said Cammy Hart-Anderson, a manager for the county’s Human Services Department.

The money should be sufficient to cover operations through the end of year. After that, county money will be required to keep it going. One source might be the one-tenth of 1 cent now collected for mental health programs and services, she said.

“It was our intention from the beginning to keep the program going,” she said.

Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, one of those instrumental in securing the state funds, said Monday he’s confident the county will cover the ongoing investment and not seek additional help from the state treasury next year.

“It is my perception that the county is dedicated to seeing this through and will continue this program,” said Hayes, who works for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The diversion center is envisioned as a short-term, residential program for the county’s homeless population who are addicted to drugs, primarily opioids, and might be struggling with untreated mental health needs. Many might have a history of committing low-level crimes to live and support their addiction, according to the center’s website.

People at the diversion center will be brought there by deputies working with social workers, a team known as the sheriff’s Office of Neighborhoods. They won’t be under arrest.

It will operate at 1918 Wall St., the former work-release center, which the county closed in 2017 because of budget cuts.

Hart-Anderson said the center is expected to open in April. The precise timing will depend on hiring of trained staff by Pioneer Human Services, which is contracted to run the center.

Its staff will include people trained in emergency medicine. It also will have those who can help clients obtain medically assisted treatment for opioid withdrawal, including prescriptions to Suboxone, the buprenorphine-based compound that can help ease symptoms and improve chances of recovery.

When Gov. Jay Inslee received a tour of the site and explanation of the program in January, he described the undertaking as “genius on the streets.”

Under provisions in the budget, Snohomish County must keep track of what happens with each person brought to the center and provide the data to the state Department of Commerce. In turn, the department must submit a report to lawmakers on Oct. 1, 2019.

That report must provide information on the nature of behavioral health services provided to those served by the pilot program as well as how many clients secured stable housing as a result of the services. The report also must track how many of those who arrived with an alcohol or drug addiction completed either a detoxification or chemical dependency treatment program.

Hayes considers this data the most critical component of the pilot.

“I think it’s going to be that reporting and the metrics that will demonstrate the success of this type of program and hopefully will lead us to a point where we can push more funding to these types of programs in the future,” he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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