‘Low-barrier’ housing plan is too costly and open to abuse

Regarding Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson’s scheme to funnel $14 million of our taxpayer dollars to build a 60- to 70-unit “low-barrier” housing project for the chronically homeless in a residential neighborhood; Wow, where to begin? Has the Everett City Council become infected with whatever debilitating brain disease that their Seattle counterparts are currently suffering from?

After Snohomish County’s plans to put on the next ballot a request for more taxpayer dollars for the police and court systems to combat the heroin crisis, the City of Everett is now saying that it has money to spend on this new project. Where did that money come from, and why isn’t it being used to fund our basic services?

Given our current budget, I believe we can have a functional, maintained city supported by tax dollars, or we can blindly throw money into the sucking, black hole of chronic need that the homeless have come to expect for free. But we cannot do both without the law-abiding taxpayers shouldering a disproportionate burden to aid those few who, for whatever reason — be it drug addiction, mental illness or just plain criminality — do not contribute a single penny to the betterment of this community.

In fact, it has been quite the opposite in terms of crime, disproportionate appropriation of emergency resources, and contributing to the overall feeling of our city becoming an unsafe place for families and visitors.

And let’s be clear here, $14 million is just the start-up cost for this boondoggle. How much more will the maintenance and supervision cost? Is there a plan in place to fund this in perpetuity, or will it just be sprung on the taxpayers later? Did anyone read about much Seattle’s homeless RV lot experiment ended up costing them monthly before it was shut down? What’s that you say? It’s working in Utah? Great, I’m sure 60 to 70 bus tickets to Utah would come to a lot less than $14 million.

Now to the “low barrier” concept itself: This is the illusion that by simply giving the homeless person a place to live, and without requiring any effort on their part to counter or even address the circumstances that made them homeless, he or she will magically stop taking illegal drugs, stop stealing and car prowling to support said drugs, or suddenly excise themselves of their mental illnesses. Or heck, will they even cast off the anti-societal lifestyle that has been affecting them for so long, and go right out and find meaningful employment?

There will be no requirements for anyone to get help or change their ways. No accountability equals no responsibility. This is nothing more than enabling people who have no intention or incentive to change their lives, and what’s worse, with no requirements to get clean and sober, it is setting up these people to fail.

The Herald reported that according to last count, there were 1,118 homeless in Everett. With all the city’s services now available to them, four people (out of a goal of 20!) have transitioned into some sort of stable housing, with another three on a waiting list. Does this sound like a group of people who willingly want to help better themselves?

I drive by the Everett Gospel Mission every day on my way to work. Despite the city’s stumbling, halfhearted efforts to stop them, many of Everett’s homeless still camp out under the I-5 overpass at night. Every day, the area is cleaned up. But the next morning, every morning, it is again littered with staggering heaps of trash and filth scattered all over the underpass and roadway. Does anyone think this housing project will be any different?

And in order to even shoehorn this proposed project into a residential neighborhood (with a city water reservoir just a stone’s throw away), the city has to change existing zoning laws that were put in place to protect neighbors from chronic nuisance properties. The very fact that the City Council is trying to circumvent the laws in place, strongly implies that the city already knows what wrongdoing is going to take place there, and principally doesn’t care how it affects the people and businesses in that neighborhood.

Now to the biggest questions: What is the end game here? How will forcing the taxpayers to supply a roof over the heads of these people and without any safeguards in place, benefit the citizens of Everett? Will this be transitional? Where and when will it stop? When will they be self-supporting? What does “success” look like?

Of course, there is that vacant square block of downtown that isn’t going to be a new courthouse anymore. Why not put it there? Right near bus lines, social services, and conveniently located near the criminal justice system. No neighbors to bother, either. And Mayor Stephanson can look out of his window every day and see his legacy cemented into history.

I challenge Mayor Stephanson to put some skin in the game: Put it to a vote, and let’s see if the electorate agrees with you.

Michael Neeley lives in Everett.

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