Monroe’s homelessness assistance effort may be showing success
Monroe Police Sgt. Ryan Irving squats to check out an empty tent found in Al Borlin Park by city parks crews. The occupant was believed to have run away when Irving approached the campsite.
A Tribune reporter accompanied the Police Department and an embedded social worker on a hike through the woods around Monroe, where several transient campers were contacted and offered public assistance for getting them out of the woods…. This narrative is an attempt to explain to readers what was observed.
MONROE — Area cities are finding more transients camping in the woods, and are coordinating accordingly to get them to move on. In Monroe, they’ve been trying something a little more direct: The city hired an embedded social worker and created a Community Outreach and Enforcement Team to help connect homeless people to services.
The number of people this team is finding is generally slowing down, which suggests progress is being made.
Last month, Monroe Police recorded four chemical depend-ency assessments; three people went into detox programs, with two completing the program; one graduated from treatment and is currently in clean and sober housing; and the team made three referrals to a housing program on behalf
of the individuals contacted.
Two or three times a week, the outreach team is meeting with homeless people they encounter camping. They don’t write tickets unless it’s the person’s final warning, and they don’t make arrests unless there’s a threat to safety or a person has a felony warrant out for their arrest. They simply hike out into the wooded areas where city parks employees have found camps, and they come to talk.
In the last week of summer earlier this month, outreach
team leader Sgt. Ryan Irving and social worker Elisa Delgado did one of their weekly hikes into the
woods despite the heat of the sunny day and pounds of gear
“We’ve been seeing a few repeat individuals who haven’t accepted our assistance yet, but we always
ask again,” Irving said as he strode along the shaded footpath in Al Borlin Park. “They keep camping here and there, we give them notice to clean up their mess and leave, and they’re kind of ‘ping-ponging’ around town lately.”
There isn’t any free land anymore, where people can camp and meander through the woods. In Monroe, the city has an ordinance against overnight camping in parks.
Those who’ve camped
around Monroe on Department of Trans-portation land or city land leave behind trash,
soiled clothes, broken furniture, old décor, camp supplies, tarps, blankets, shoes, shopping carts and pet supplies.
Not every person who camps in these wooded areas
leaves trash behind. A few make a genuine effort to
clean up after they are told to leave.
A man and woman were camping up on a hill. They were found by Irving and Delgado, who had to climb up a steep incline to get to the couple’s illegal hilltop campsite. The couple was cleaning and gathering their possessions in shopping
carts, boxes and bags.
“Getting it all cleaned up?” Irving called up as he and Delgado approached, passing by the bicycles at the foot of the hill. The woman in her late 30s was folding up blankets and sleeping bags while her boyfriend, a man in his mid-40s, was gathering rubbish into a large trash bag.
“Yeah, you know, just
getting everything together to take down that hill!” the woman replied. When Irving and Delgado reached the top, they all shook hands.
“I thought you guys had housing last time we saw
you?” Delgado asked her.
“Yeah, we did, but it was a trailer on a friend’s land and some things happened and it wasn’t a good situation so we left,” the man told Delgado, who listened intently while Irving walked around the campsite and got their identification.
“We’ve only been here a few days, and we found a lot of this trash,” the man told Irving. The couple shared their information and talked with Irving about trespassing on state land. They knew they needed to leave.
Delgado offered her card and solutions to the couple’s housing predicament,
trying to set up a meet-up in town to take them to apply for housing, and to the doctor.
“I don’t have insurance anymore,” the woman told Delgado, who offered to help her apply for health insur-ance.
“It’s really easy, takes about 15 minutes,” Delgado told her, not trying to sell her insurance — Delgado is not a saleswoman, but a social worker trying to help what
she calls an often-misunderstood population. “I can come with you, I can talk to them for you…”
Eventually, the couple
agrees to meet with Delgado the following week.
It was a successful hike for that day.
They issued warnings for trespassing, and set up some follow-up appointments. The follow-through is what’s most important after the initial contact.
Sometimes the individuals miss their appointments by something else coming up, or they don’t call, don’t show. Delgado said she will have to try, try again.
To act as an observer, the Tribune did not interview anyone the police made contact with, but their stories were heard loud and clear.
More affordable housing is needed, Delgado said, and people need better access to addiction treatment pro-grams so that those who are homeless and need assistance with addiction can go.
For many, getting to centers on foot is the hard part. But Delgado and Irving often give rides and coordinate appointments.
Monroe’s community outreach program kicked off in April and will run for two years. After then, officials will evaluate the program to see if it needs expansion and improvements. Delgado, a part-time social worker with the Police Department, also works for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office’s
office of neighborhoods, which does similar outreach to homeless people.
The illegal campsites persist all over the county, but officers and social workers continue to offer friendly contact and conversations, encouragement and assistance. That day, Irving’s friendly demeanor set all of the people he spoke with at ease. It is thawing tensions over police in the homeless community.
One campsite Irving had contacted a few days before even had a note waiting for him.
“Went down to the Goodwill for a few things, will be back to clean up,” the note read. The tent stood open, full of random broken furniture,
pet food and blankets.
Irving and Delgado shrugged at each other and said the communication was a good sign.
“It’s about showing them we do care and we can be there for them, should they choose to get assistance and get out of the woods,” Delgado said. “It can be frustrating sometimes, because you want them to want it, but they make these choices. It’s good to show the community we are making every effort to play our part, but it’s not always up to us.”
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