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Vacant houses are hotspots for drug users

Police watching and ready to clamp down on transient-prone houses

SNOHOMISH — Transient strangers are using a small network of vacant houses in town to not just take shelter but to shoot up heroin and use methamphetamine in seclusion.
Police Chief John Flood and his second-in-command, Sgt. Eric Fournier, are more than aware of the situation. Along with the rest of the force, they make regular patrols and property investigations to vacant houses where drug-using transients have been known to occupy.
“Every city has its problems (with crime and drugs),” Flood said. “It’s just well-known in our community, because our officers have a better understanding of what’s going on, they’re involved, and we also have a very involved citizenry.”
There are three vacant houses in Snohomish that the police frequently check. All three have had complaints reported on them of transients squatting in them, and within these houses’ walls lie evidence of the transients’ presence.

Down and out on Avenue A
303 Avenue A
Melanie Russell photo

Police Sgt. Eric Fournier (left) and Chief John Flood stand at 303 Avenue A after chatting about what they saw inside the house last week.

In the historic district, at 303 Ave. A, a non-historic 1950s Rambler home sits empty. The recent purchasers of the home do not live there but someone’s been getting in.
Flood and Fournier went out to the site last week for a routine check and were able to identify drug paraphernalia left in the garage. 
They found evidence of needle sharing, a heroin needle, a meth pipe and limited camping gear. 
They also examined remnants of trash and dirty clothes. 
Even though transients can’t get into the house, they’ve been getting into the garage and causing nothing but problems for the owners, Flood said. 
It is so bad that 303 Ave. A is now condemned and the owner got approved to demolish it.
The property’s owners, who live elsewhere in Snohomish, have posted signs, and tried reinforcing doors and windows to keep transients out.
“Most of the time, they get in, they get high or messed up, and do a lot of damage to these homes,” Flood said.
The property owners’ investment may not have paid off.
303 Ave. A’s demolition permit application was approved by the city Design Review Board on May 13, and they waived the standard 90-day demolition deferral period because the house was too damaged to be worth saving.

Another on Avenue A
A little bit further down the road sits a circa-1914 blue house atop a hill overlooking the neighborhood and the Snohomish Aquatic Center. This house, at 902 Ave. A, is another shelter for transients and has been quite damaged. 
The owner listed in Snohomish County Assessor’s Office records passed away in 2010 at age 92, and now the house sits as a bank repossession. 
The Police Department was contracted by the bank to check up on it due to reports of transients being spotted. 
A big thing this house has in common with the house at 303 Ave. A is that when peeking through the windows of these homes, one can see damage inside such as busted up door frames, damaged walls, windows and destroyed furniture. 
The front door is now padlocked, but somehow transients keep getting in. 
The last reported spotting at the house was little over a month ago, Fournier said.
The back of the property lot lines face the Interurban Trail, a common transient hangout area.

Maple Avenue
A transient-prone duplex in the 600 block of Maple Ave. also has seen better days. 
Its double-padlocked door has been busted through many times, and apparently there is a foul odor in the house. 
Flood attributes its popularity with transients due to its close proximity to the
Centennial Trail, which transients use. It is also a block away from a residence in the 500 block of Maple Avenue that is on the department’s radar for alleged drug activity. 
Whether the two locations are related in terms of crime remains to be clearly linked.

The Snohomish drug circuit
The typical profile on who frequents these houses are not homeless people seeking shelter, but drug users looking to use heroin and other hard drugs without being spotted, Flood said. 
The drug-using transients seem to have a pattern, and know which houses to go to.
“The transients just move around, they don’t seem to be leaving Snohomish,” Flood said. “They all seem to know about these houses, and find ways to access them. But we know, too.”
Residents’ reports help get homes on the department’s radar. Police say getting these transients away from the community, however, will take time.
“We have to abide by the laws, and we can’t just walk up to a house, kick in the door, and say, ‘give me your drugs,’” Flood said. “We have to develop evidence. We need something to support what we’re hearing in the community. We have to be able to explain to a judge why we would need a search warrant, and that takes building a case … We have rules by which we need to operate, and we are not ignoring anything.”

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