Office of Neighborhoods Part 1: The ‘recipe’ to help the county’s homeless

Deputies Adam Malaby (left) and Bud McCurry (right) enter a shed on an abandoned property. An abandoned house is also nearby. No one was home that day.

This is Part 1 of a three-part series about the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office of Neighborhoods.

They may be wearing uniforms and sporting a Snohomish County Sheriff’s patch, but law enforcement the officers who enter the county’s homeless encampments aren’t there to kick residents out of their tents. They’re there to help them, get them off of drugs – and eventually put a permanent roof over their heads.

But before they can do anything else, they have to build trust.

Many people living in Snohomish County’s homeless encampments have had contact with police before. The relationship they are used to having usually involves getting kicked out of their homes or getting arrested.

Trash and clothes are piled inside the shed.

So, when a sergeant, two deputies and a social worker with the Sheriff’s Office of Neighborhoods enter the camps, many times, the residents’ first instinct is to turn the other way or to announce that they will be moving on soon. It takes a little effort for the officers to get residents to hear them out.

The homeless outreach program was created by Sheriff Ty Trenary in February 2015 as a new way to approach homeless heroin addicts in Snohomish County. Perhaps people will stay off the streets longer and stay off of drugs if they are put in rehab instead of jail, and if they are eventually released into housing instead of back into their homeless camps.

Right now, the program’s main focus is on unincorporated Lynnwood and south Everett, but there are also camps near Mill Creek and Monroe that they have been visiting. Eventually, officers hope to have the resources to go farther north.

“There is a crime prevention element to this,” said Sergeant Ian Huri, the first person to be appointed to the Office of Neighborhoods. “The crime rate does go down the more people we pull out of these camps.”

All the copper pipes and wires have been ripped from the walls of an abandoned house. Deputies say it was likely sold by squatters to purchase drugs.

The approach could also save lives. A heroin epidemic is growing in both Washington state and especially Snohomish County. Between 2011 and 2013, one in five heroin deaths in Washington occurred in Snohomish County. In 2013 alone, more than 80 people died of an accidental heroin or opioid overdose in Snohomish County. The age group affected the most in Snohomish County between 2011 and 2013 were young adults between the ages of 18 and 29.

More than 60 percent of people admitted to detoxification programs in Snohomish County in 2013 were there for heroin use.

“The stigma against using heroin just isn’t there anymore,” Deputy Bud McCurry said.

If successful, the Office of Neighborhoods could also cut down on jail costs by reducing the number of inmates and repeat inmates.

Homelessness is also a growing concern for Snohomish County. The annual Point in Time count has yet to release its final count for 2016, but preliminary results released in late January show 481 homeless people living in Snohomish County, a 49 percent increase from the 295 people counted in 2015.

Deputy Bud McCurry, Deputy Adam Malaby, Sgt. Ian Huri and social worker Jesse Calliham (left to right) make their way through a homeless encampment.

The Office of Neighborhoods began with just Huri. In August, social worker Jesse Calliham was added to the team. Then, in September, two deputies joined. It has been a group of four ever since, and they operate as a tightly knit unit.

The Office of Neighborhoods has a process. First, they arrange for a homeless person to get a state ID card, then health insurance, followed by a chemical dependency assessment. The results of the assessment are sent to Calliham, along with a treatment recommendation. Once a person is admitted for treatment, Calliham arranges for housing so patients go straight from treatment into a house, and continues to manage his or her case file.

McCurry compares the process of getting clean and into housing to that of making a cake.

“If you have all the ingredients but no instructions, it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “What we do is provide the recipe. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.”

–Story and photos by Natalie Covate

Part 2 of this series can be read here.

  1. This is what needs to be posted to the comments section below the article:

    Whereas this service may be helpful for the select homeless/drug addicts that decide to avail themselves of services, this unit is doing a great DISSERVICE to the rest of the citizens of unincorporated South Snohomish County. When creating the Office of Neighborhoods, Sheriff Trenary created those positions by removing the personnel from patrol, leaving less Deputies working patrol to answer 911 calls from citizens needing help who are not part of that small segment catered to by the OoN. Additionally, the OoN Deputies, who are considered “non-essential” personnel and should have holidays off, are working on the holidays getting extra holiday pay while patrol personnel are kept at minimum staffing to save money! They further impact patrol Deputies ability to respond to 911 calls by requesting them to respond to vehicle collisions witnessed by them and also by requesting patrol Deputies to transport their prisoners for them. Mind you, the OoN Sergeant and Deputies are fully-commissioned Deputies who have the training and equipment to handle those incidents.

    The services offered by the OoN to the homeless/drug addicts are helpful, but would be much better provided ENTIRELY by DSHS or county social services. A recent staffing study requested by Sheriff Trenary showed that unincorporated Snohomish County needs 44 additional patrol Deputies IMMEDIATELY to adequately staff the Patrol Division! Taking Deputies from patrol for feel-good projects like this one are not the way to provide that staffing and services.

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