Homelessness is a widespread issue throughout our country, our state and our region. People often ask me what the City of Marysville is doing in response.
While this is certainly not true of every person without a home, the majority of homeless people in our community have drug/alcohol abuse or mental health issues, or both. The significant segment of our homeless population who are struggling with addiction issues are responsible for many local crimes such as theft committed to feed drug habits. In the past, suspects were often arrested and released repeatedly for such crimes, creating a “revolving door” that is very costly to taxpayers and does not solve the problem.
Because we recognized that securing housing is not enough for people who may need help with addiction or other issues to turn their lives around, the City of Marysville introduced our Embedded Social Worker program in 2018. Under this model, social worker Rochelle Long and Marysville Police Officer Mike Buell team up to work with people who have addiction and mental health issues in our community. They establish relationships, build trust, and offer real, tailored help toward a better lifestyle. Depending on the person’s circumstances, this could mean addiction treatment, housing, job training, mental health services or some combination of services.
Let me be very clear that simply being homeless is not a crime. We have no tolerance, however, for people who commit crimes that victimize our residents and businesses. Marysville practices a two-pronged approach to this issue. We offer significant and meaningful help to those who commit transient-related crimes and impose legal consequences for those who choose not to accept that help.
Expanding on the success of the initial program, Police Chief Erik Scairpon successfully led an effort last year to secure a $95,000 grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) to add mental health professionals assigned to join officers responding to incidents involving persons experiencing a behavioral health crisis. That program was recently expanded and funded with another $262,500 WASPC grant to include three mental health professionals shared by the cities of Marysville, Arlington and Lake Stevens, and the Tulalip Tribes.
Our innovative policing program has gained state and national attention as a model for other communities. Since the first of this year, the team found temporary housing for 39 individuals in Marysville. They made contact with 213 people in need of help, 74 of whom entered into treatment programs.
That’s only part of what the city is doing about homelessness. In partnership with local churches, businesses and the Everett Gospel Mission, we opened our first MESH (Micro Emergency Shelter Home) in 2016. In these city-owned homes, people who were formerly homeless and have graduated from treatment programs work with the local faith community and social services on their way to independent, healthy lives. With this community support over a period of time, multiple MESH residents have moved on to secure jobs and homes on their own. Last year the City Council established an affordable housing tax credit budget of $500,000 to help buy an additional MESH home to add to our inventory. I am hopeful that other community organizations might join us to purchase more MESH homes.
In addition to these actions, the city also supports and works in partnership with many other agencies who provide housing or social services for homeless people. One of these is Housing Hope, which operates three housing facilities in Marysville with 89 units for low-income families or those experiencing homelessness. Others include Salvation Army of Marysville/Tulalip (Cold Weather Shelter, substance abuse treatment, utility assistance and more), Volunteers of America (Maud’s House emergency shelter for women and children, rental assistance and behavioral health assistance), Marysville Community Food Bank (free food), St. Joseph’s House (free clothing), and so many more.
While homelessness is a daunting issue, Marysville is a compassionate community. I am proud of our city’s thoughtful, multi-faceted approach over the past several years and grateful to the many community partners who also are working to help those in need of housing.
Jon Nehring has been Mayor of Marysville since 2010. You can reach him at 360-363-8000 or email@example.com.