By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published October 26, 2022
Council majority rejects tying drug treatment
rule to staying in county-owned shelters
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The County Council voted 3-2 along political party lines to oppose an ordinance that would stipulate that illegal drug users would be required to get treatment as a rule to access housing in county-owned shelters for homeless people.
County Councilman Nate Nehring proposed to add the condition when funding sources for a shelter project do not expressly prohibit it. Councilman Sam Low voted in support.
Council chair Megan Dunn and council members Jared Mead and Strom Peterson voted in opposition.
At an hour-long public hearing, a majority of the public speakers were in favor of passing Nehring’s ordinance, saying this would give a layer of accountability.
Housing advocates in opposition said it puts a barrier to being housed versus being on the streets. The city of Everett also wrote a letter in opposition.
In August, the county Council approved purchasing two hotels to repurpose into homeless shelters: The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way and an Americas Best Value Inn on Highway 99 in Edmonds. The two purchases would add 129 rooms to temporarily place people while awaiting permanent housing. Operations could start in 2023. The hotels would have 24/7 care services, including access to chemical and dependency services and mental health services, a county press release said. Guests would need to follow a code of conduct to stay.
The hotels have been intended to operate on the Housing First model of giving shelter first and then working on demons second.
Opponents on council said the stipulation could cause federal funding sources to be at risk based on how ADA disability discrimination laws are written. Some illegal drug users are a protected class of disabled people because they have an addiction recognized by a doctor.
Nehring addressed concerns that adding this rule interrupts people from seeking housing. He said that he wanted people to enter the hotel and sign an agreement to get services.
Opponents say that causes drug users who are experiencing homelessness to decide between their active addiction versus receiving shelter.
Peterson, the newest council member, was among the opposition.
“The new program the county is standing up will have services on-site,” he said. “I appreciate the heart behind this, but it’s a step in the wrong direction.”
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