North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Arlington hosts forum on homelessness

 

Christopher Andersson

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert speaks at a forum on homelessness at Weston High School on Feb. 22.

The growing problem of homeless was the topic of discussion at a forum on Feb. 22 in Arlington between local officials, nonprofit organization leaders and shelter organizers.

The forum was hosted by Sno-Isle Libraries as part of their "Issues that matter" series.

The housing problem stretches across all demographics, many of the participants said.

The Arlington School District reports 156 homeless kids in their schools and the Marysville School District reports 391, according to Nicolas Quijano, an advocate supervisor at Cocoon House, a Snohomish County shelter for homeless youth.

Seanna Herring-Jensen, program manager at the Arlington Community Resource Center, said that it almost happened to her when her lease was abruptly ended.

"We had to be out in a month and where do you go when there's no vacancies?" she said.

"It happens to good, hard-working people. And once you get into the hotel circle, you start spending a large amount of money and where does your money come for first month's rent and a security deposit?" she said.

Herring-Jensen also worried about the many senior citizens who face homelessness.

"We have so many seniors that are on the street right now because they can't afford a place to live on their income of $700 per month so they sleep in the car with their dog," she said.

Those struggling with addiction form another portion of the homeless population.

Not all homeless people have drug addiction problems, but a "high" percentage of people who have addiction issues end up homeless at some point, said Lynda Plummer, assistant director of social services at Housing Hope, a Snohomish County nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing.

She said that treatment programs have improved greatly in the last decade.

"Is it there yet? No. People are going to relapse. It's a process. But we feel strongly we have the best systems in place that we've ever had, even though it's far from perfect," she said.

Plummer added that to escape addiction, a person still has to have "a willingness and a desire to get off drugs."

Once through a program though, those struggling with addiction need to have support and that support has to include housing, said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert.

"They have to have a place to go to, because we can't send them out into the woods or shelters because we know that's a sure way they'll end up back on drugs," she said.

Many said that a lack of affordable housing is one of the primary causes of homelessness.

"The main issue is an economic one - affordable housing isn't built by private developers because it's not profitable," said Kristen Cane, director of development and policy at the Housing Authority of Snohomish County.

Sweeping changes, like new rental subsidies or an expansion of the Section 8 housing program, are unlikely, she said, but the county is working on small steps.

"Maybe you don't have to make $18 per hour to afford housing, just $13 or $14," she said.

King County's "tiny home" villages, with houses that aren't up to regular city codes but provide small private shelters, may be an option in the future.

"There's a lot of questions that go with tiny homes. Do you want just the home? Do they have to have plumbing? Do they have to have electrical?" said Tolbert.

"It's tough for small cities to get through that list of things. It's very complex to rewrite codes in order to allow that," she said. However, a bill is being looked at in the state legislature may make it easier for small cities to allow the "tiny homes" into their city, said Tolbert.

Cane said it is always a struggle to balance how much of an organization's time should be spent on fighting the short-term immediate needs versus the larger pictures issues and not to lose sight of the big perspective problems.

"I think it's really important to connect with elected officials, including at the local, state and national level, to communicate that it's important to you," she said.

Quijano encouraged locals to keep "just a very basic little amount of information," to help connect those who need help with services.

Knowing to call 211 (which can help locate social services) or the location of the Arlington Community Resource Center (18218 Smokey Point Blvd.) can help those who have become homeless.

More information about the Sno-Isle Libraries forums are available at son-isle.org/issues-that-matter.

 

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