Homeless people seeking shelter at new emergency housing in Edmonds will not have to agree to drug treatment before they are allowed to move in. The Snohomish County Council earlier this week – for the second time – voted not to make drug treatment mandatory at the Edmonds Best Value Inn, along with another hotel purchased in Everett.
The county in August anounced it was spending just over $9 million to purchase the 55-unit America’s Best Value Inn, on Edmonds’ Highway 99, using federal pandemic rescue money. The 74-unit Days Inn near Everett Mall is being purchased for $10.8 million. They will provide a total of 129 units for those taking the first step out of homelessness. The concept is designed to provide immediate shelter in a stable environment, with 24/7 support services. It is part of a strategy called “Housing First” – get people off the streets – then offer them drug treatment.
At a county council meeting last month, Councilmember Nate Nehring proposed an amendment to delay the hotel purchase until the county required homeless people to agree to drug treatment before being allowed housing. It failed. Earlier this week, Nehring proposed the amendment again and that triggered a public hearing and a vigorous debate.
Eric Nelson, co-owner of Lynnwood Honda – across the street from Best Value Inn – was blunt: “Crime is rampant… we can watch hookers in the (hotel) windows dancing; EMTs, police and fire are there weekly.” Almost every evening, he testified, people try to break into vehicles; “we have needles in our landscaping… we’ve had naked people running through our dealership and crack cocaine being consumed in our bathrooms.”
Nelson, who told councilmembers that he has been in recovery for 19 years and, “I didn’t go into it willingly,” urged councilmembers to have some common sense and require treatment as a condition of housing. “They can’t get into their next phase of life while they’re still stuck on drugs in their previous phase,” he said.
John Hull, from the Everett Gospel Mission, countered that if the county required treatment before shelter, “you will prevent people from pursuing a stable environment, off the streets, in which they can then make the decisions willingly to pursue recovery.”
“As compassionate people,” testified Edmonds resident Carolyn Strong, “we must work to end this destructive lifestyle.” But, she added, “it is imperative that the root cause of the homeless addicts be addressed up front. To not do so forces all residents of Snohomish County, as taxpayers splitting the bill, to become enablers of drug addicts.”
Strong argued that Highway 99 is the city’s “largest crime hub” and, that bringing in a hotel that houses drug abusers and crime “goes directly against the plans of the Edmonds community and further lessens the quality of life for residents who have businesses and are living nearby.”
But State Rep. Lauren Davis told councilmembers, “when you treat a person with worth and dignity and give them a place to stay… that is the place from which recovery flows.” Her district includes Lynnwood, south Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway. “If you require treatment out of the gate, because people are so fearful and have such a shattered sense of self-worth, they won’t enter treatment at all,” she said. Davis told the council she has worked in the addiction field for a decade and that case workers see methamphetamine use decrease “almost immediately” when homeless addicts get shelter.
Even before this hearing, it was apparent based on their previous decision that no council member would change their vote. At the end, it was 3-2 to defeat the treatment requirement, just as the first vote last month was. Voting for the requirement were Councilmembers Nehring and Sam Lowe (5th District), both Republicans. Voting against were the council’s three Democrats — Strom Peterson (3rd District representing Edmonds, Lynnwood, Woodway and some unincorporated areas), Jared Mead (4th District representing Mountlake Terrace and Brier) and Chair Megan Dunn (1st District).
Nehring, the amendment sponsor, told the audience he hopes that if this approach doesn’t work, the council will reconsider. But, “if this is the direction the county is going to go, I’ll say I hope it is successful.
“I hope we find that through this approach we can help a significant number of people overcome their addictions,” he said.
— By Bob Throndsen