EVERETT — For the past three years, City Councilwoman Judy Tuohy has supported Everett’s multi-pronged approach to dealing with an increasing presence of homeless, mentally ill and drug-addicted people on the streets.
Now, in the final week of her campaign for mayor, Tuohy tells voters in a new mailer the effort known as the Safe Streets Initiative has “failed” and “produced little to no results and spending has more than doubled.”
But Tuohy said Tuesday she has no plans to abandon the effort if she wins the Nov. 7 election against fellow councilwoman Cassie Franklin. The two are competing to succeed Mayor Ray Stephanson, who is retiring after 14 years on the job.
Rather, she’ll try to bolster what the city is doing with a “new direction” that aims to boost the number of cops on patrol, open at least one temporary shelter where the homeless can go during the day and find new locations for the faith community to run their daily feeding programs.
Those three steps, she insisted, can deliver immediate dividends for a frustrated citizenry.
“The recommendations of the Streets Initiative Task Force are not the failure point,” she explained. “The failure has come from the prioritization and implementation plan.
“We are making headway. Our residents do not believe we are doing enough and their quality of life is being compromised,” Tuohy said. “They consistently tell us the challenges they face with the crime and impact from the street issues are getting worse. They are not seeing any improvement. We need to recognize their frustration.”
Stephanson, who got the ball rolling on the initiative three years ago, said he was disappointed when he read the political mailer because there’s been unanimous support from the council from the outset.
“What was so surprising to me reading that flier is that it was so disconnected from what I’ve heard from the community and the City Council,” he said.
“I realize and I understand there is concern and frustration with homelessness and addiction,” Stephanson said. But to say the initiative has failed “is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst,” he said.
Stephanson established the Everett Community Streets Initiative task force in July 2014 to come up with strategies to solve the city’s chronic problems with homelessness, addiction, mental illness and public nuisances.
Its 23 members included residents and leaders of business, the faith community and nonprofits in Everett serving those living with mental health problems and addiction and struggling with being homeless. Representatives of the city and Snohomish County also took part.
The final report, which came out in November 2014, contained 63 recommendations to be carried out by local government, businesses and nonprofit social service providers, and sometimes all those groups together.
Ideas included stepping up enforcement of drug-related crimes, enhancing options for services and treatment, and increasing the availability of temporary shelter and permanent housing.
From those, Stephanson developed the Safe Streets Plan to start enacting some of the recommendations in the areas of enforcement, diversion and supportive housing. It was launched in 2016 with $1 million and to date city officials estimate $4.5 million has been spent on carrying out the plan, and related programs.
As an example, a chunk of the money went to hire police officers and social service workers to be part of the Community Outreach and Enforcement Teams. These teams go into the community to assist individuals who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. Since March, the team has helped 65 people into treatment services, and 102 into housing, according to the city.
Other accomplishments include cleaning up 85 homeless encampments in the past year. And there’s been assistance provided to nonprofits developing supportive housing with 170 units to be available in 2019, Stephanson said.
Tuohy and the rest of the council authorized spending the money with their approval of city budgets for 2016 and 2017. Discussion of the 2018 budget will get under way Wednesday.
Tuohy’s rebuke of the initiative drew sharp criticism from Franklin, who served on the Safe Streets task force and is chief executive officer emeritus at Cocoon House.
She’s also received Stephanson’s endorsement.
“It absolutely has not failed. It is producing results. It is being used as a model by other communities,” Franklin said. “I think the problem would be tenfold where it is now if we hadn’t been doing this.”
“I plan to to continue the initiative and expand those areas that we find are successful,” Franklin said. “For her to say it’s failed, I’m surprised she would have voted for it.”
Franklin wondered if what Tuohy said in the mailer means she’ll redirect city dollars away from paying police officers for those outreach teams.
“I don’t know if my opponent is suggesting laying off law enforcement officers,” Franklin said. “I’m certainly not suggesting that.”
Tuohy said she isn’t looking to reduce the size of the force. Rather, she said she wants to hire retired police officers to take on administrative tasks in order to give patrol officers more time on the street. Also, she said this would help bridge the department’s staffing gap until existing vacancies are filled.
Tuohy also wants to open up one or more day shelters for the homeless and find new sites for feeding programs. Both are recommendations from the initiative task force but not part of Stephanson’s Safe Streets Plan.
He said he believed deploying the outreach teams and pursuing supportive housing were the highest priorities. A day center is important, though finding a suitable location that is acceptable to the neighborhood will take time, he said.
Dealing with all the challenges is a complex task and the problems are not going to be solved overnight or in a few months, he said.
“The next mayor and City Council must be committed to working on this problem for the long haul,” he said.