“It’s a concentrated and unique problem that’s become urgent,” said City Attorney David Hall during a phone conversation with MyEverettNews.com today. Hall says the issue is not just about homelessness or criminal behavior but also mental illness and addiction. People may be having mental health issues and be experiencing homelessness but not be criminals or have addiction. Criminals may prey on those who are homeless while not being homeless themselves. Addiction often leads to criminal behavior and homelessness which can then bring out underlying mental health problems. There are endless combinations among just these four basic issues Everett (and many other cities) are dealing with.
MyEverettNews.com has been following the problems regarding street level issues in Everett over the past year and the formation of a Community Streets Initiative Task Force. The one thing the city appears to have discovered is that there is no simple answer, remedy or explanation. People are looking for short term solutions to a problem that has been brewing for a long time. The City of Everett is taking on all of those issues as best it can on many different levels. At last night’s City Council Meeting Mayor Ray Stephanson talked about how Everett Police have made 150 arrests in the area around the mission but also said, “This is not a law enforcement problem it is a societal problem and will take more than the police department to solve.”
Last night Hall explained to the Everett City Council plans to try and use a pre-charge diversion program to address complaints from business owners in the area. Last Thursday, MyEverettNews.com spoke to Gary Watts who owns Z-Sport at 36th and Smith about the problems near the mission and last night he spoke directly to the city council. Watts asked them to pass a controversial law against sitting or laying on the sidewalk in that specific area of Everett. The city is not moving forward with that law at this time but does plan a unique approach to enforcing the current laws it has on the books regarding illegal camping, trespassing and other low level crimes.In the upcoming days and weeks Everett Police will be out in the area around the mission on Smith street doing outreach to the folks who continue to hang out and break the existing laws. Like they did about a month ago, there will be social service groups with the police to offer immediate assistance to those willing to accept. Along with the police and social service workers will be a city prosecutor and a public defender who are able to talk with those contacted by police. “The public defender will be able to advise the person whether or not it is in their best interest to accept the pre-charge diversion being offered by the prosecutor,” said Hall. “We want to be able to direct these people out of the criminal process and into the services and treatment they need.”
If people agree to pre-charge diversion and then don’t follow through they would then face the criminal charge. “We’ve got to get at the root causes of some of this low-level criminal behavior,” Hall said. “We need to interrupt the cycle of arrest, release, arrest, release.” One of the programs that has worked in other places is having those in a pre-charge diversion program serve on work crews cleaning and maintaining the area where the problem has been occurring. Hall says that sends a message to the business owners in the area that the restitution is taking place and there are consequences for those who offend. It also leads to some of the offenders gaining a measure of pride and respect in the work they have done.
MyEverettNews.com will continue to follow this issue and provide updates on this new approach and some of the other methods being used as Everett deals with multiple problems that have no single solution.