Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary oversees the county's jail. He is adamant that more needs to be done to address mental illness, drug-addiction and homelessness that doesn't involve incarceration. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary oversees the county's jail. He is adamant that more needs to be done to address mental illness, drug-addiction and homelessness that doesn't involve incarceration. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Part 2: A sheriff refuses to ‘warehouse the mentally ill’

What Jail Can’t Cure
Part 1: The justice system fails Keaton Farris
Part 2: A sheriff refuses to ‘warehouse the mentally ill’
Part 3: Cops and social workers team up on the streets
Part 4: With help, a homeless alcoholic finds redemption

EVERETT — Gary Watts owns an auto repair shop on Smith Avenue a block from the Everett Gospel Mission. He’s been there since 1992, shortly before the shelter opened. Back then the location seemed ideal, just off Broadway, easy for customers to find with the garage’s sign visible from the freeway.

“It hasn’t worked out to be a safe area,” Watts said. “It’s become a gathering place for heroin addicts, alcoholics and those people who have chosen a street life.”

Every morning his employees walk the shop’s perimeter, checking for used hypodermic needles. Watts warns women not to drop their cars off after dark anymore. Thieves have dashed into the garage’s open bay doors making off with tools. Employees call police weekly to report drug deals, assaults and acts of prostitution.

Watts can’t ignore Snohomish County’s homeless or those living on the margins because of inadequate mental health care or lack of resources to treat addiction. The mission down the street offers food and shelter to some of those folks. Watts says the area also has become a magnet for drug dealers and other criminals who prey on easy targets.

With his livelihood at stake, Watts is vocal about what he says is a public safety and health crisis. More needs to be done to make the city less appealing to drug dealers, addicts and the homeless who aren’t willing to accept the social services offered to them, Watts said. He supports Everett’s new ordinance to crack down on aggressive panhandling.

“The government needs to focus on public safety and public health,” he said. “The city is failing us if we don’t have a safe place to live and work.”

Watts is part of an ongoing conversation across the county to address some tough issues that have come into sharper focus since Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary narrowed the doors at the jail. It’s time to fix broken systems that rely on the jail to keep some populations out of sight, Trenary said.

“Law enforcement has been a catch-all solution for too long,” the sheriff said. Heroin addiction and mental illness are not just law enforcement problems, he said.

The state puts the burden on communities but “it’s high time the state get back in the game of addressing mental illness. We shouldn’t be spending money to warehouse the mentally ill” in the county jail, Trenary said.

Incarceration also isn’t the answer to tackle homelessness, the sheriff said.

Trenary may seem an unlikely advocate for reforming health care and social services. He’s been a cop for more than 20 years. He was appointed sheriff in 2013 after John Lovick left to become the county executive. With the job Trenary inherited a jail with serious problems, namely a series of inmate deaths.

Trenary made changes, including improving medical care. Similar reforms are underway in Island County after the April death of Keaton Farris, a mentally ill inmate who died of dehydration and malnutrition.

Trenary also closely examined who was coming through the jail’s doors.

Roughly four out of every 10 people booked have histories of addiction, mental illness or both. Trenary imposed mandatory booking restrictions to limit the number of inmates jailed for non-violent offenses. Prior to the change, about 40 percent of the jail population was there for misdemeanors. Today, that number is around 30 percent. The sheriff is convinced that taxpayers’ money could be better spent trying to keep people out of the criminal justice system.

For two years Trenary has found himself invested in work that has little to do with traditional law enforcement. He’s opened up the jail to allow social workers inside to sign up inmates for public health care insurance so they can get mental health treatment. He’s backed efforts to connect mentally ill inmates to resources before they leave. He’s provided Western State Hospital psychologists an office in the jail to reduce the wait for competency evaluations. The sheriff’s made his case to state lawmakers, all the way up to the governor. Trenary also joined law enforcement leaders across the country exploring ways to intervene before people hit the jail.

“Even if the jail takes (everyone), there is still a bigger issue,” Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman said. “There is still a revolving door and officers are dealing with the same people with no end in sight.”

A large chunk of Everett’s police resources are being consumed by a small percentage of people, often those lying on sidewalks, loitering downtown or panhandling outside businesses.

“They have become the face of the homeless,” Templeman said.

The Everett Police Department and sheriff’s office recently began a one-year pilot program that teams cops up with social workers. A county social worker is assigned to the sheriff’s Office of Neighborhoods and a second one is working with Everett’s downtown patrol unit.

The social workers accompany officers to homeless camps and on city streets, helping plug people into the county’s social services network.

Officers from both departments went to Santa Monica, California to observe that city’s homeless community court. The county also sent two employees from its Human Service’s Division.

“Historically we investigate (and) arrest and the criminal justice system takes over,” Everett police Capt. John DeRousse said. “Because of a change in culture and jail restrictions we had to look at alternatives and making partnerships.”

Trenary recently disbanded his school services unit to add two more deputies to the social worker program. In Everett, Mayor Ray Stephanson proposed spending $1 million to hire more social workers and move officers to the unit. Last year he convened a task force that generated a list of recommendations to address homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

A shortage of resources makes the work challenging. There isn’t enough affordable housing that accepts people with addictions and scrapes with the law. Across the state and close to home there continues to be a shortage of psychiatric and detox beds.

It costs about $4,000 a month to house a drug-addicted inmate in the county jail and $6,100 a month for a mentally ill inmate, Trenary said.

“Putting the resources on the front end is going to save money and I think it’s going to get better results,” the sheriff said.

There’s complexity, however, that can’t be overlooked. Even as Everett was hiring a social worker, police officers in July rounded up more than a dozen homeless people near the men’s shelter and shipped them to the Yakima jail. The Snohomish County Jail wouldn’t take them because their offenses were non-violent and many were drug addicts. They were arrested for trespassing, unlawful camping and possessing drug paraphernalia.

Everett police say they gave them multiple chances over months and offered services but officers needed to take enforcement action. The sweep came after business owners showed up at council meetings, demanding results.

There is a segment of the population that needs to go to jail, DeRousse said. Police also arrested suspects in the area for robberies and assaults on other homeless people. Incarceration can’t be completely off the table.

Yet, social service agencies say it’s not as simple as offering someone a place to stay for the night or access to health care.

Often people have been traumatized over and over again, said Anji Jorstad, the county’s supervisor of community mental health programs.

“Their connection to reality is tenuous. It takes time to meet people where they’re at. It takes time to build trust,” she said.

It can be an approach that doesn’t sit well with weary neighbors and business owners who want immediate results.

Watts, the longtime Everett business owner, said the city needs tougher ordinances to reduce street crimes. Last month the city council added jail time as a possible punishment for aggressive panhandling. It’s a move that drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Watts said the city should send a clear message that it’s not going to tolerate criminals who make people feel unsafe.

“Until we get the drug dealers off the streets, no social services are going to work,” Watts said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, Twitter: @dianahefley

What Jail Can’t Cure
Part 1: The justice system fails Keaton Farris
Part 2: A sheriff refuses to ‘warehouse the mentally ill’
Part 3: Cops and social workers team up on the streets
Part 4: With help, a homeless alcoholic finds redemption

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)
How to donate to the family of Ariel Garcia

Everett police believe the boy’s mother, Janet Garcia, stabbed him repeatedly and left his body in Pierce County.

A ribbon is cut during the Orange Line kick off event at the Lynnwood Transit Center on Saturday, March 30, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘A huge year for transit’: Swift Orange Line begins in Lynnwood

Elected officials, community members celebrate Snohomish County’s newest bus rapid transit line.

Bethany Teed, a certified peer counselor with Sunrise Services and experienced hairstylist, cuts the hair of Eli LeFevre during a resource fair at the Carnegie Resource Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Carnegie center is a one-stop shop for housing, work, health — and hope

The resource center in downtown Everett connects people to more than 50 social service programs.

Everett mall renderings from Brixton Capital. (Photo provided by the City of Everett)
Topgolf at the Everett Mall? Mayor’s hint still unconfirmed

After Cassie Franklin’s annual address, rumors circled about what “top” entertainment tenant could be landing at Everett Mall.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood man gets federal prison for selling fentanyl on dark web

In 2013, Christerfer Frick was sentenced to nine years for trafficking drugs. He began selling online upon his release in 2020.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

A fire at a home near Alderwood Mall sent one neighbor and one firefighter to the hospital. (Photo provided by South County Fire)
Officials: Residents returned to burning Lynnwood home to rescue dogs

Five people and six dogs were displaced in the Thursday afternoon house fire, according to South County Fire.

Featuring a pink blush over a yellow background, WA 64 combines qualities of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink (aka Pink Lady) for a firm, crisp, sweet and tart bite. A naming contest for the new apple runs through May 5, 2024. (Photo provided by Washington State University)
Hey Honeycrisp, this new breed of apple needs a name

Enter a naming contest for WA 64, a hybrid apple with the same baby daddy as Cosmic Crisp.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Lynnwood woman, 83, killed in wrong-way crash following police pursuit

Deputies said they were chasing a man, 37, south on Highway 525 when he swerved into northbound lanes, killing an oncoming driver.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

People walk along the waterfront in front of South Fork Bakery at the Port of Everett on Thursday, April 11, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port of Everett inks deal with longtime Bothell restaurant

The port will break ground on two new buildings this summer. Slated for completion next year, Alexa’s Cafe will open in one of them.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.