No mandatory drug treatment at Edmonds hotel shelter

Exterior of America’s Best Value Inn on Highway 99

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.

An America’s Best Value Inn and Suites room in Edmonds. (Photo courtesy Snohomish County)

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.

Lynnwood Honda in Edmonds

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.”

A two-and-a-quarter mile stretch of Highway 99 runs through Edmonds.

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.”

State Rep. Lauren Davis

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).

County Councilmember Nate Nehring

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

  1. I work in a similar program in Seattle. In the time I’ve been here I have seen participants access treatment and obtain housing consistently. When we give them care and compassion and support, it enables them to choose a better path for themselves – we are low barrier and as the weeks go by we see less use for the most part. Participants start talking about changing. We support them where they are in a difficult journey; and seeing them choose the positive changes, and regain their lives is amazing every single time- awe inspiring.

    1. Teresa, thank you for the work you do. Since you’re in the profession, I’m curious what metrics we should look for to judge the success of the Edmonds hotel shelter? Particularly for those who need help with their dependency.

      1. Great question Jim. There needs to be accountability. Metrics not feelings. We’ll have to monitor the crime and emergency services stats.

  2. Ms Schroeder, would you mind naming the program you work at and the location? It would be interesting to see what the neighbors in that area think. If it is low barrier facility, would they agree with your statement or have their lives been turned upside down. Please provide the information, it will be interesting to get some feedback from people in the area. Thank. you.

  3. It’s impossible to see how success will be declared when there really is no goal specified in the plan. Real goals are SMART…Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. “Worth and dignity,” “from which recovery flows,” “almost immediately,” “care and compassion,” “a better path,” “less use,” “talking about changing,” “support them where they are,” “difficult journey,” and “positive changes” are not excellent markers for goals. Nate Nehring presented a reasonable amendment that was defeated and now admits “if this is the direction the county is going to go, I’ll say I hope it is successful.” Let’s be SMARTer about this venture.

  4. How about a time limit to begin drug treatment for those getting free housing at tax payer’s expense.
    Not happy about providing housing and free range drug use—that scenario does not help anyone and there are plenty of examples in-State to validate this approach does not work.

  5. The question to ask how do you measure success and what are the metrics is important. When measuring the success of the low-barrier homeless shelter you should also measure the collateral damage that is done to the neighborhood from those who are unwilling to accept treatment.

  6. We are supposedly the “Land of the Free” so the idea of forcing people to do things in any aspect, beyond basic public safely and sanitation needs, seems a little Draconian to me. Addicted people have only one sure thing in common – addictive personalities. Forcing someone to get substance and mental health counseling might work with one person and be a total failure with another, so that approach can only be marginally successful at best. There is much to be said for getting our homeless off the streets, out of our parks and centrally located to begin to help them overcome their problems. The counseling and basic structure must be there for people willing to accept it for sure. The people who can’t or won’t accept treatment, should be housed away from those who will and they should be supplied with their addictive substances or a cheaper substitute just to keep them from stealing from and harming everyone else. Prohibitions and wars on drugs don’t work. Ref. alcohol prohibition and repeal. Expensive booze for the rich and cheap booze for the poor works. Cheap or free drugs available would work to stop a lot of crime.

    1. People who are addicted to any substance don’t necessarily have “addictive personalities”. ANYONE can become addicted to an addictive substance; it’s chemistry. What people who become addicted have in common is trauma. Until we compassionately help to address the trauma, we’ll continue to have the situation we do.

      1. Compassion is not letting people die on sidewalks and handing out needles. Region has tried the hands off, no consequences approach for a decade with no success.

      2. Annon, I very respectfully disagree with you on this being strictly an issue of chemistry. The chemistry simply says that your body will become tolerant of certain addictive substances and you will need more and more of the substance to obtain a similar high over time. True for everyone.

        Some people are able to have a couple beers and call it good, while others intend to have a couple beers and end up having six or more and get drunk. For whatever reason, these people have addictive personalities. It’s been my experience with friends, that those who over do alcohol or pot also tend to chain smoke in social situations – or even drink copious amounts of coffee. Most of these friends are otherwise very normal people with jobs, family and taking responsibility for their other actions.

        You are assuming that all addicted people are that way due to some trauma and I don’t think that is a valid assumption at all. I suspect medical people would agree with me on this. I would agree that trauma can exacerbate the addictive personality and lead to self medication for escape, but that doesn’t explain addiction in general.

        1. Clinton, as someone who has studied addiction I will respectfully disagree with you (or would that be respectfully, respectfully disagree?). I won’t get into the chemistry side, but if your friends are using alcohol and/or other drugs excessively/regularly (whether they are addicted or not) I encourage you to become curious about what’s driving their behavior. I will wager they are attempting to numb feelings that stem from some sort of trauma (not that they would ever share that reality with you…..they don’t want to think about it or feel it). My point is, unless and until we all understand what’s at the root of addiction (or what’s underneath the desire to escape life) we won’t be able to fully and completely assist people in the throws of addiction. This is separate from requiring participation in a treatment program with shelter, it just needs to be treatment that focuses on the individuals core issues, gives them tools to change, and supports them as they choose a different way to live their lives. This is a huge topic, and one, in my view, we all need to put some effort into understanding.

  7. The notion that housing comes with no rules or regulations isn’t valid. Property owners are required to do many things via code, whether or not it impedes their free use of their property. Maintain sidewalks, clearing snow, have garbage service, and myriad others. It is a responsibility regulated by local and state government. Not enforcing those regulations against property owners creates hazards for those living near out of compliance neighbors. HWY99 is unfortunately a crime magnet (see police blotter). How are folks who are simply down on their luck supposed to find any housing where they can feel near safe? You know those folks (a mostly women and children) served by a policy where the housing options available to them include “no requirement” for drug treatment? Encampments are frightening places, living in a car difficult to do and the “housing” offered is just as frightening. Let’s start thinking things through and spending resources wisely. You know, common sense. Edmonds wants to add hundreds of living units in that area, yet they will be living next to drug motels and in a high crime area. Affordable or shelter housing should not mean having to accept unsafe policy-driven conditions.

  8. The lack of any plan at all around the opening of this that can assure residents and families like ours near this facility that their concerns are going to be considered is deeply worrying. Equally as concerning is the lack of ANY communication from our city, which seemingly from the administration side of things is in support of this while also telling us crime is an issue on HWY99. Hope someone is looking out for us!

  9. What is the purpose of this hotel? I read originally that it was for transitioning people back into permanent housing. This has now turned into a shelter which was not the original announcement or plan. The county was unable to be honest on the purpose because they know citizens would not support this. All three democrats that voted yes against drug testing comments see this as a shelter. The republicans that voted no see this as transitional housing.

    Lets be honest this building is now a shelter. The county is pulling the bait and switch on this project but i am not surprised. You thought it was bad now in that block? It’s about to get a whole lot worse.

    Remember when you vote, especially in this neighborhood, elections have consequences.

  10. It’s also troubling that the county is paying $9M for the hotel which has a taxable market value of only $3.3M per the county assessor’s office. So, either we’re paying too much for the hotel, or we haven’t been adequately collecting property taxes on the property. Either way it demonstrates how little regard our local government has for fiscal responsibility of our taxpayer money.

    1. It is my understanding that the building is in very poor condition and will need a lot of work to make it operable for this program. That could explain some of the cost if this information is accurate.

  11. I am a former meth addict of 20 years, used to be homeless and suffer from mental health issues. The thing that got me clean was being forced into treatment after being arrested for possession of meth. I have now been off drugs and taking meds for my mental health for 10 years. If I was not held accountable for my actions I would never have had the chance to get sober and start thinking clearly. How can we expect addicts to make life changing decisions when they are not in the right state of mind. There has to eventually be some sort of accountability for the program and the homeless addicts and people suffering from mental health. Mental health is also just as important to address as drug addiction and our state is severely lacking any sort of help for these individuals. We should have facilities for both with accountability.

    1. Thank you Carlos Reyes for sharing your experience with us. I am of the same mindset of most of the commentators here & in the Public Comments at the County meeting last Wednesday. I do not believe the County has chosen the most compassionate option, unfortunately, and as a result I believe there will be countless other residents who will be victimized by this situation. They ignored the close to 2 dozen residents who gave feedback that day. I also brought up my concerns about this experiment during the Project 99 Zoom meeting with Director McLaughlin last week, when I asked, in essence, how this hotel project is in any way aligning with the 99 Revitalization Project. We are supposed to cross our fingers and hope for the best when there are Drug Cartels operating in our city in that very vicinity. I feel bad for the neighbors and businesses in that area. I live near the 99/Gateway district and the crime is a huge issue near the Safeway. We must all become more engaged in City Council meetings, you can write to Council , especially now that they are in budget and Comprehensive Plan discussions and decision- making phase.

  12. Strom Peterson and his fellow Democrats on the County Council are shoving this abomination down the throats of Edmonds taxpayers. Providing taxpayer free housing to drug and/ot alcohol addicted homeless persons without any treatment requirements will only create another crime magnate on Hwy 99. Does the term Freeattle ring a bell? This just provides comfortable surroundings for addicts to continue their addiction.

  13. So everyone who is addicted to anything; it’s because of some Trauma in their life? That is, simply put, absurd in my view. Some people can get drunk or high once in awhile for perceived recreation, and never become addicted, while others turn it into a lifestyle that becomes a plague on normal society. Knowing what causes this difference might be interesting and time consuming but not really very useful, practically speaking.

    Right now, we desperately need well staffed facilities like this to help those who realize they need and want help. The people who just don’t want help and will do whatever it takes to get their fix to feel good or better will have to be handled differently in a different but still humane type of facility; whether it’s called a jail or a mental institution or whatever. Otherwise these folks will live on the streets and be a burden to themselves and the rest of us. No easy answers here and either way it will cost tax money to cope with it.

    1. Your lack of curiosity about the “why” of a fellow human’s suffering is disappointing, but, unfortunately, very common. Getting to the root of any issue can only help. Since you don’t appreciate my view on this, let’s take a leaking window as an example. You can caulk the snot out of it every time the leak returns year after year after year, or you can investigate and learn that the window is installed in a way that allows water to come in and cause damage. Take the time and you can stop the water from intruding for good. And since you don’t like my take on this, I encourage you to read/listen to people you might respect, like Gabor Mate. Or read “The Biology of Desire” by Marc Lewis. There is a plethora of information out there. And no one who is addicted gets a “fix” to feel high, they do it to stop the pain of withdrawl. Clearly, I have hit a nerve. I agree, there are no easy answers, I’m suggesting that we spend our tax money in a way that has the best chance to “stop the leak”.

  14. Annon, who says I don’t like or totally disagree with your take. You started this whole discourse by disputing my view that all these folks have the common problem of having a predisposition (for whatever reasons) for becoming addicted. I still think I’m right about that. The fact is, I totally agree with most of what you have to say and I too have worked as a social worker years ago and have studied these issues some, but probably not to the depth that you have.

    My late wife worked in the field of Juvenile Probation and I think you may have worked with her from the School perspective. Your name sounds very familiar. I changed fields after I married in the late 70’s because I was a bit burnt out with Family Court (resolving child custody disputes) and the prospect of two social workers talking shop every night didn’t much appeal to me. You and I caring and understanding only goes a little way toward any solutions here. At some point people have to be called to account for their actions for Society’s sake, no matter the cause. Just my humble opinion.

    1. I too believe people should be held accountable for their actions. I’m merely suggesting that those who are working in the treatment portion be educated in a way that holds the highest possibility for healing. If we as a community can understand the reasons for and mechanisms of addiction we can better advocate for facilities and treatment that will actually make a difference. I stand by my assertion that anyone can become addicted, and it has little to do with personality or predisposition. I understand, and respect, that you don’t agree.

      It wasn’t me who worked with your late wife, but it sounds like a wise decision for you to shift careers. Family Court is rough, to put it mildly, as is Juvenile Probation!

  15. Your seeming need to make this about me, counseling me and making assumptions about me has become disturbing. Please stop doing this.Thank you.

    1. I thought we were having a discussion about a subject on which we have areas of agreement, as well as differences of opinion; clearly, I misunderstood. One of the things I hate about this kind of format is that tone and expression are lost. I assure you it was not my intention to make you uncomfortable or cause you any kind of discomfort. My apologies.

  16. I suddenly was feeling like I was being “mansplained” (I know, probably not a even a word). I consider myself pretty tough, but probably some self delusion on that score. Anyway, I agree with your points and views in this venue about 99% of the time, so I happily accept your probably uncalled for apology. I offer the same to you.

    I think we are both right, the more I’m “curious” (couldn’t resist) about this subject and our exchange about it. I’m sure trauma is the root cause of much of the addictive behavior we see around us, but I don’t think that can explain it all. One person experiences trauma and becomes stronger as a result, and another person can’t cope and becomes weaker and in need of some sort of life pain blockers. We need much more free or affordable mental health counseling in our society for sure.

  17. Today Kiro7 on My with Dori Monson reported that Americas Best Value in located on hwy 99 Edmonds was just closed down for meth contamination. Dori had an interview with Snohomish County Council member Nate Nehring who was for drug screening confirmed this closure. Tax $ will have to be used to clean up all the meth contamination how many times? Time for our Edmonds Snohomish County appointed Council member to reopen the vote for drug screening at these tax payer funded facilities, to protect the public

  18. Mexico and other Central and South American countries are being virtually run by the illegal drug cartels with huge profits and bribes going to corrupt public officials both offshore and onshore. Many times law enforcement (or not more likely) is just purchased as another commodity. The idea that Snohomish County, much less Edmonds City, is going to do anything meaningful about this problem is absurd without the legalization and controlled distribution of hard drugs. This is just alcohol prohibition on steroids. The sooner we go to a modern alcohol and cannabis public approach to this problem, the better. Of course we probably won’t do that, because it would be immoral in most people’s view of narcotic level drug use. We so often choose idealistic dreams over pragmatism and wonder why we don’t succeed. In the 1900’s opiates were sold over the counter as pain killers and medicine. Alcohol was the devils substance then, and needed to be banned according to the Temperance League. They got what they wanted and it was a disaster for the nation, just like illegal narcotics are now.

  19. If you have not and have never known an addict it is imperative that you watch Dope Sick. Michael Keaten gives a wonderful performance and it will tell you all you need to know. It will show you hard working people who also became addicted to pain meds and the destruction of their lives, those who lived! It will show you the robberies that ensued. This is all based on a true story about a Pharmaceutical Company owned by the Statler Family and how money was so much more important that admitting what they were doing to citizens. So it’s all kinds of people who fall into these traps. Some are RX some are illegal and do come over the borders. We do not police our Interstates from CA to WA. We do nothing to stop this import. These poorly mixed meds from illegal labs are what are killing people here now on the streets. And also the RX have killed many too who just quietly stayed at home and took their meds for chronic pain. Help Them… Help Us.

  20. I totally agree with Deborah on this too. The bottom line is thousands of unscrupulous, greedy and down right evil people are making big bucks on the legal and illegal drug trade that is literally helping destroy our culture from within. This combined market supplies both recreational drug use by the affluent class and the self medicating needs of our ever shrinking middle class, and ever growing lower and impoverished class’s.

    Rich people buy high quality safe drugs and rarely get caught. Poor people buy low quality street drugs and either get caught and incarcerated eventually or they die. Until we develop a system of legalized control of these substances, cheap medical treatment and supervision of the use of them, and elimination of obscene profits of both legal and illegal manufacture; there will be no solutions in terms of physical and property crime, homelessness, and general social breakdown. Adding easy access to all sorts of firearms to this mess just makes for a giant dumpster fire of human pain and suffering.

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