Addressing homelessness and associated substance abuse and behavioral health issues is one of my top priorities on the County Council. Regardless of where you live, these issues affect community safety, crime, and quality of life. It is also important to recognize the humanity of those living on the street and make sure that our approach to addressing homelessness helps these individuals find a better path. In this month’s column, I will highlight the recent hotel purchases by Snohomish County and my ordinance related to substance abuse treatment. 

There has been a move across many West Coast governments to purchase existing hotels for conversion into shelter for individuals who are homeless. The premise is that purchasing hotels is more cost-effective than building a new structure from the ground up.  

Snohomish County is currently in the process of purchasing two hotels for use as permanent supportive housing and bridge housing for individuals who are homeless. The County Council approved the purchases last month for one hotel in South Everett and one in Edmonds. I voted against the hotel purchases because I was not confident that the existing plan would actually help these individuals improve their conditions, particularly the majority who are struggling with a drug addiction. 

Effectiveness of these hotel operations is mixed, and we have certainly seen examples where the hotels have become public safety concerns for the surrounding community. Hotels in San Francisco and Renton have shown rampant drug abuse and increased crime due to a lack of appropriate precautions.  

I have proposed legislation which, if adopted, would require that individuals living in taxpayer-funded hotels participate in substance abuse treatment if they are currently addicted to drugs. I believe this is a necessary and reasonable step to ensure that we are not just moving these individuals out of sight, but are also getting them the help they need to improve their lives.  

We know from experience at the local level that a “tough love” or “carrot and stick” approach is often needed to break the cycle of addiction and get people into treatment and recovery. Solely offering services, as is currently proposed, does not address the issue of the many reluctant individuals who, whether by choice or as a result of their addiction, consistently refuse services and treatment.  

The idea of “housing first” to stabilize individuals who are homeless before addressing the underlying causes of homelessness may have merit, although results of studies have been mixed in terms of the success rate. My view is that subsidized housing for those struggling with substance abuse needs to be tied to strong rules to ensure that we address the root issue of addiction rather than simply moving these individuals off the street.  

If we are to avoid issues associated with county-owned hotels which have been seen in other parts of the state and country, we must take a different approach. I will be working with my colleagues on the County Council and the County Executive’s Office to work toward that solution.  

Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (425) 512-4810.


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