Recently, Marysville, Washington, enacted a program where it embeds social workers with law enforcement, who go into homeless encampments to offer extensive help.
“Help means an initial assessment, and then a drug detox, or a substance abuse detox,” Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring told KTTH. “After that, a 30 to 60-day long term rehabilitation program. And then if they graduate from that, they move into transitional housing and job training, hopefully ultimately get a job, and be at least somewhat — if not fully — self-sufficient.
That approach stems from a zero-tolerance policy from Marysville police, enforced across the city.
“In Marysville, we don’t tolerate sleeping under bridges (or) illegal camping, (and) we discourage our citizens from giving to panhandlers — we encourage them to give to local charities instead,” Nehring said.
That way, rather than simply clearing homeless encampments only to see them pop up somewhere else, a concerted effort is being expended to get to the root of the issue. Take away the option to continue trespassing and committing crimes, Nehring argued, and you leave people with a simple choice.
“It’s a two-pronged approach,” he said. “You can take that option, which we would much prefer. If not, if you’re committing crimes, we’re going to take you to jail.”
So far, the program has seen almost immediate results, according to Nehring. Already, 40 people have completed
substance abuse detoxes, 19 have graduated from a long-term treatment program, and 37 have secured housing.
“We offer help. Our embedded social worker and the police officer are out full time in these camps or wherever the folks are offering help by way of three-day detox, 30, 60 and 90-day inpatient treatment, six months temporary housing. Wrap job training and services around them and try to get them a second crack at life,” Nehring said.
Nehring says there’s a catch if you don’t play ball with getting help.
“If they’re getting the run-around and if ultimately the person is not willing to get the treatment, then we don’t just say, ‘well OK, move on to the next person.’
“We say, ‘no, we’re bringing in our night team, and we’re going to prosecute every outstanding warrant you have, and we’re going to prosecute every crime you commit from here forth and look to put you in jail.’
“It’s not a great solution; it’s expensive. But we’ll play that game all year long if they want to,” Nehring said.