Police departments in Arlington and Marysville in 2018 started a new approach to interacting with the homeless people living in both communities.
Both police departments teamed an officer with a social worker to venture into homeless camps scattered throughout Marysville and Arlington. They work with residents to find the programs that will help them get off the streets.
"It's about having a different philosophy in dealing with transient populations," said Chief Rick Smith, of the Marysville Police Department.
Nearly one year into the program, social workers have made 1,500 encounters with homeless people and have gotten dozens of people to a point where they are off the streets.
In the nearly 12 month since the social worker was hired in Marysville in March 2018, 124 people have completed chemical dependency programs, 45 have completed detox, 52 have secured housing, 51 have completed inpatient treatment and the social worker has 173 new clients. In all, the social worker and officer have had more than 1,000 encounters with homeless since March of 2018.
"Those numbers are phenomenal," Smith said.
In Arlington, from May through December 2018, the social worker program saw 30 people complete detox, 23 people secure housing, and the social worker gain 73 new clients through 543 total encounters.
“It’s fiscally more responsible to get them to be fully functioning members of society,” Marysville Police Department Commander Mark Thomas said.
Rochelle Long, the embedded social worker for the Marysville Police Department, said many homeless people she encounters come from all walks of life. Some used to work at Microsoft or Boeing, others were attorneys or teachers, and some have doctoral degrees. What often happens is they sustain an injury, get prescribed opioids and then become addicted. The doctor then cuts off the prescription and they turn to heroin, which is cheaper to buy and accessible.
The social worker has the knowledge to get homeless people the resources they need to receive treatment or health care or other resources that will help get them off the streets.
There are a number of ways social workers approach people, which can be direct contact with residents in camps, referrals from people, flyers sent out to the public, or from other people living on the streets, said Officer Ken Thomas with the Arlington Police Department. He has received cold calls from people who are homeless and addicted who had found a card for the social worker.
“Those are the type of referrals that flood our phone first,” said Brittney Sutton, social worker with the Arlington Police Department.
As the social worker interact with homeless people, they become more receptive as they learn about the social worker’s reputation, said Thomas.
“Just having a calm demeanor and talking as a human being goes a long way,” Long said.
Visiting the homeless provides a fast way to get folks help. Sutton said she has signed people up for Medicaid through Washington Health Plan Finder.
Both Sutton and Long cited the Carnegie Resource Center in Everett which is located on the Snohomish County campus. The center provides a place where people can access resources for housing, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. The resource center opened in 2018.
Social workers will continue to look for more camps and interact with homeless throughout the two communities.
Long said a big goal for the coming year is to find funding for gaps in areas such as mental health, employment and job training. She said that the goal for people completing treatment is to have some kind of employment and stable housing.
“We don’t give up,” Long said.