Commentary: Keep talking with neighbors of proposed low-barrier housing

By Alexander Lark

At the Nov. 9 Everett City Council meeting, I was encouraged to see citizens voice their concerns before the council.

I believe that we all want the same thing: to solve­ the issue of homelessness in Everett. Homelessness in Everett is a tremendous challenge and it is important that we have these conversations now so that the solutions will make sense to all involved and we can move forward together.

One theme from the meeting that stood out to me, and gave me great hope, was that even though citizens voiced concerns about low-barrier housing, they still acknowledged that this model works.

The disagreements are in the implementation and the logistics of low-barrier housing in Everett. We know and agree that those experiencing homelessness are often victims of crime and illness, and are high-frequency users of police, fire and hospital services. We understand that moving our neighbors into safe, stable housing would cut down on costly hospital and police visits. We even have data from other states proving that low-barrier housing is cheaper for the city, making it much more financially responsible. It’s also the right thing to do.

Homelessness is a symptom of greater problems. By proving safe and stable homes, we as a society can help each person address the underlying issues that caused their homelessness in the first place. Homelessness ends through healing, and healing begins with stability. Housing with services at the same site is essential for creating that space.

A wonderful example of this space is the Father Bach Haven apartments run by Catholic Charities Spokane. Not only does the property help the community’s most vulnerable, but the design and maintenance of the building respects the neighborhood and the people who live in it.

At our City Council meeting, some citizens expressed surprise and frustration about the level of communication coming from the city. I understand that frustration. We, as citizens of Everett, have a right to feel included in the work of our government. If we as a city are going to overcome the challenges facing us and our community, we must be able to do it as a team, and communication is foundational to that pursuit.

As a community, our story of low-barrier housing is only just beginning, and the city must work to improve communication and build respect. I propose that as this project progresses, the city establishes a special neighborhood committee that serves as a direct liaison between the community and the new project. Other nonprofit organizations have done this with great success, and our community has been stronger because of it. That direct line of communication will create accountability and help dialogue needed for success.

The challenge before us is great, but if we come together we can solve this problem. We must lead with compassion, collaboration and common sense. I believe that Everett can and will be one of the great cities in the state of Washington, but to get there, we will have to work together.

Alexander Lark serves on Everett’s planning commission.

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