Police officers in Snohomish County, Arlington and Marysville have been working with social workers to connect directly with homeless individuals for a little more than a year now.
The Embedded Social Worker program has a year’s worth of data and local officials gathered for a panel to discuss the results of the effort so far on May 28.
In the program a police officer is paired with a social worker to go out into homeless encampments to build relationships with those individuals and support them getting into services such as drug treatment when they are ready to.
“We are really good at putting handcuffs on people and taking them to jail. I will tell you we did that for seven and a half years with this epidemic and the problem just kept getting worse,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.
In the first year of the program officers and social workers helped 80 people get into treatment from the Marysville area, according to Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith.
Of those, 42 graduated from the program, he said.
Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said that the program had 904 encounters in Arlington.
Those visits helped 33 people complete a detox program, get 46 people housing and had 24 people graduate from the program.
The program is meant to help those who are seeking recovery from drug addiction.
Social worker Britney Sutton said that many people they interact with want help but simply didn’t know how to get it.
“One specific client ran around Arlington quite often, everybody knew him,” she said.
“We met him in Marysville jail, serving time on a couple of warrants and he was ready. He was saying ‘please take me from here,’” she said.
That client is now engaged and expecting their first child.
“Instead of stealing from Arlington, he works in Arlington,” said Sutton.
Some clients are more distrustful though, said social worker Rochelle Long, which is why it’s important for the program to build relationships with homeless individuals.
She described one client that she originally met under a bridge.
“It took a couple of times to engage with him, because what I find with this population is that they don’t trust people and building that trust is a huge component,” she said.
Eventually this client did work with the social workers, said Long.
“After eight months he called me out of the blue and said he had relapsed. I tell all my clients please call me or Mike if you have relapsed so we can get you back on track,” said Long.
Long said the client has now returned to being sober and has now been allowed to have monitored visits with his daughter, who is currently in foster care.
Local officers said that the program was in response to the opioid epidemic and trying to create a new approach to the problem.
“We looked at what’s really causing the crime out there,” said Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Ian Huri.
He said homelessness, addiction and mental health problems were the root causes of most crime.
“If those issues were addressed, they likely wouldn’t be committing that crime any longer. If they had supportive housing they wouldn’t be committing crimes out in the community,” he said.
Smith and Ventura reported that crime has dropped, especially in areas near homeless encampments, since the program’s inception.
Smith said that in one area near a homeless encampment commercial theft was down by 30 percent, vehicles prowls were down by 57 percent and vehicle thefts were down 78 percent.
Ventura said the Smokey Point Walmart is one of the biggest problem areas for the department.
“Just in the first year our responses to Walmart have gone down 24 percent,” he said.
The program is meant to reduce criminal activity by bringing those homeless individuals back into the community.
Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said he recently got a message that said the program is doing just that.
“An ex-spouse contacted me and sent a photo and a message a couple of weeks ago. This individual had gone through treatment and was now coming to their kids’ soccer games and was being an active participant in getting their life back together,” he said.