Monroe Police’s embedded social worker program seeing results
MONROE — Intention, follow-through and consistency.
These are the fundamentals for contacting homeless or transient individuals floating around Monroe, and for the city’s still-new embedded social worker program,those fundamentals are producing results.
For Sgt. Ryan Irving, who helps oversee the program with the Monroe Police Department, it’s been a progression of efforts with the help of a part-time social worker, Elisa Delgado, as well as the department’s school resource officer, Justin Springer. The efforts originally stemmed from seeing the impacts of homelessness in town and trying to actually address the issue instead of making arrests or pushing those individuals elsewhere.
“When I first started doing this, I would get homeless encampments complaints assigned to me and what I figured out over the course of multiple months was, I could go out and tell people that they were illegally camping and that they needed to move by a certain time, but really I was just re-locating them to a different part of the city or pushing them onto another city or part of the county – we were really not actually addressing the problem,” Irving said. “That became ineffective. So we started looking at what are ways that we can address this?”
Irving said the Monroe Police Department initially began learning the ropes from local resource service groups like Catholic Community Services and the VOA for outreach.
Then, the department progressed to hiring a part-time social worker, Delgado, to somewhat embed themselves into the life and trials of the local homeless or transients, and connect them to services for the causing or contributing factors to their lifestyles – crime, addiction, job loss,traumatic event, and mental health.
“We needed somebody to partner with, bring them around two days a week, to show them consistency in contacting the clients, following through and getting them there with this program,” Irving said. “This has been our most successful program and it’s through that consistency. There are more solutions.”
The city of Monroe enacted the embedded social worker program in April.
Delgado said she has been interested in community mental health for a number of years, having worked as a program manager for the VOA and had worked in Washington, D.C. She also worked on a crisis hotline. When Delgado is not working in Monroe, she works part-time with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office’s Office of Neighborhoods.
Some of the trends among potential “clients” that Delgado, Irving and Springer are seeing in Monroe pertain to the clients’ different journeys in life: No one case is the same, and they all have experienced loss or hard challenges.
“We have people that are elderly and living in their cars and they’re on a supplemental income and they may have a pet, or group housing has a two-year wait list, that’s one aspect,” Irving said. “Then we have our heroin-addicted (people) in their 20s, we have people who are experiencing temporary job loss… Homelessness has many different faces.”
Some of those faces have names, identities that they are still seeking to recover, or lose; it depends on the person. While the police and social worker Delgado cannot force the clients into a program for their needs,the decision is up to the client.
There has been some success.
One client Delgado and Irving contacted back in the spring just recently graduated from in-patient treatment and will go into clean and sober housing.
Four clients from just last week agreed to go in for an assessment to possibly enter treatment and get back on their feet. After 30 days of in-patient detox treatment, the client is then eligible for clean and sober housing, which is up to a six-month stay in one of the county or private facilities contracted with Monroe’s program. Some clients go up to Whatcom,Yakima – wherever Monroe Police can find spots for them, according to police spokeswoman Debbie Willis.
“We have specific programs we regularly work with,” Willis said. “We attempt to accommodate the client’s requests but are limited to facilities that are willing to accept the client’s insurance.”
For clients with other needs like stable or affordable housing, Irving said it’s a longer journey for them but it’s not impossible.
“The thing with working in Monroe, versus working in the county, a lot of the clients we contact are from this area,” Delgado said. “I see that a lot of people choose to stay close to this place, even though the summer brings in a lot of new faces, we see the same people and they are from here. They seem to have a connection here.”
Officer Springer said he grew up in Monroe, and has had to grapple with seeing some of his old high school classmates among the homeless crowd.
“They’re not unfamiliar faces to me, most of them I had already contacted multiple times as an officer in town for 10 years, and I’m from Monroe – some of them I grew up with and went to school with, so I see it all from a different perspective and that progression of this different life,” Springer said. “So helping them out is a big deal to me, to help them come back to the straight-and-narrow path again, to be part of the community in a positive way. Working with this program, doing this work in the community I grew up in, it’s personal and it’s needed.”
With school being out for the summer, Springer, normally the SRO for Monroe Schools, is assisting with the embedded social worker program until school begins again in the fall.
The summer days are spent hiking along the river and going to encampments to talk with potential clients.
The police and Delgado go out into the community, to reported illegal camp sites, weekly. The consistency has been the key.
“It’s just telling them, ‘whenever you’re ready, we’re here,’”Delgado said “We continue to follow up, check in, even providing transport if they need it. If they have a bad day, they can call us because sometimes we’re the first they think of to call or for help. I really like this population. I think a lot of people don’t understand this population, and I think it’s about human connection and making them feel human again.”
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