At least 36 people died homeless on the streets
Five were veterans. One more person was killed in the woods Jan. 4.
EVERETT — At least 36 people died on the streets of Snohomish County during the past 12 months.
It’s a number that appears to be growing.
Some died of failing health. Others had their lives cut short by violence. Five were veterans.
The list the county has surely has many regulars from the Everett Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter, the CEO of the Everett Gospel Mission Sylvia Anderson said.
She’s seen the numbers grow among its clientele. The mission began a quarterly vigil at the men’s shelter which in October honored five men. A few years ago, the number used to be two or three, Anderson said.
Homeless people die of the same things as you and I, but the mortality risks are much higher. Sometimes people come in and figure out they have terminal illnesses, Anderson said. They may have presumed before that living in the elements weakened them.
At the county’s Homeless Memorial Day Vigil on Dec. 21 — the longest night of the year — a bell rang after each name to honor each individual. “Taps” was played for the five veterans among the 36, and the ceremony closed with a public chorus of “Amazing Grace” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.”
After the vigil, on Smith Avenue near the Everett Gospel Mission, the Tribune saw about eight people outside on the street.
2017’s vigil honored 22.
The clock that led to the 36 tallied began Dec. 22, 2017, the day after 2017’s vigil. Names are added from hearing from social outreach workers, homeless shelters, community meal programs and media reports. It is by no means comprehensive.
Part of the reason this year’s list is larger is because the county has begun taking names from the needle exchange program nonprofit that operates in Everett, said listmaster Jerry Gadek, the veterans service lead in Snohomish County Human Services.
Facing the cold
People the Tribune spoke with seem to be handling braving the cold, but in ways the housed would never face.
Some walk all night to stay warm by keeping moving. Some pitch tents and cover up. One man said he could keep his tent warm with Sterno cans, spending $4 at a time to be sure he has this heat source.
While Anderson hasn’t heard of anyone dying of hypothermia, the cold’s cumulative effects can prompt the onset of pneumonia or bronchitis. The “cold weather can exacerbate” illnesses for people in already fragile health, she said.
“The biggest group” homeless advocates are seeing are older, disabled people, Whitney Summers, a case navigator for Catholic Community Services Western Washington, said at the vigil. “They can’t fend for themselves.”
When facing freezing temperatures, some beat the streets to area cold weather shelters. The Salvation Army and the Everett Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter open their doors in Everett. The mission runs transportation to the Salvation Army for people it can’t house.
The lucky ones have shelter.
Eric A. so far isn’t one of them. The mission has a lottery system for the limited open beds that aren’t filled by repeat visitors. It uses a lottery instead of first-come, first-serve because that used to cause long lines and “hold my spot”-style gamesmanship among the people in queue, Anderson said.
Eric, who broke his hip, walks all night after he was jostled by police on New Year’s Day. He said he’s on the street because he was screwed out of an inheritance and someone took his home and cars.
The cold doesn’t bother Jeremy. He said so himself as he was wearing just a T-shirt outside in the 45-degree weather on Jan. 2. But, he acknowledged that the cold makes life difficult. “It is a daily, nightly fight,” Jeremy said.
A mission regular, he takes to cold weather shelters when it freezes.
He said he’s been homeless for 13 years, but if he had the means to do so he would buy land to put together a tent city.
Sierra G. lives in a house now, but when she didn’t, she’d “fly signs” — to panhandle — to earn money to find a motel room for the night. She said sometimes she’d wish that a man would pay for her time. Her body gave means for someplace warm.
She’s a fighter. She tried a Suboxone program, but found it difficult after getting clean.
Almost all are fighting demons.
There were 350 homeless adults interviewed countywide during the Point in Time Homeless Count snapshot last January.
Some people arrive in the area because they see Seattle’s job market as promising but quickly find themselves trapped homeless because they’re stung by the area’s associated cost of housing, Gadek said.
Many the Tribune spoke with mentioned that police sweeps mean they are woken up in the morning and given 20 minutes to vacate. Patrols are done regularly.
“This is the only town where it’s illegal to be homeless,” a man overhearing an interview chimed in.
Even so, a reporter observed people going up the hill behind Interstate 5 along a fenced area. Police have cleared out the highway land ultimately owned by the state Department of Transportation.
Some died especially brutal deaths.
Jay Agostinelli, 62, in late May was beaten up near a bus stop in the 1200 block of Broadway of Everett and died from his injuries 10 days later.
Charles Wall, Jr., 47, was murdered unprovoked July 28 on Evergreen Way. He’d been on the streets for more than 15 years. Wall was a family man and mission regular. He saw the mission as his “grounding point,” Anderson said. “A place (he) can start again” when things went awry.
In 2017, a man named Juan Gonzales was beaten to death by another homeless individual, the first murder outside the mission in at least 18 years. People recalled Gonzales by name around the mission. It was a tough loss for the men at the shelter, Anderson said.
These are the ones whose stories reached the media because police sought suspects. For dozens of other homeless people, the circumstances of their deaths are not blasted into public view.
In 2017, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office had 31 people classified as indigent, county spokesman Kent Patton said. An indigent person in medical examiner terms is not necessarily a homeless person, though, Patton said. It is an unclaimed person.
The county holds onto them for months in the morgue. Like many jurisdictions,
once time’s up to claim them, the county cremates and either buries them on land or at sea.
More services today
The mission can house 215 people a night: 140 at the men’s shelter on Smith Avenue and 75 at the women’s shelter in Lowell.
The mission was able to add a longer-term residential program with job training and other assistance inside the men’s shelter in 2018.
The county also took numerous steps the past year to bolster its efforts with brick-and-mortar services. Last year it opened a jail diversion center to
provide temporary housing and help for up to 44 men and women who are homeless and have complex needs. It’s sort of a voluntary, short-term triage place to guide people to stable and more permanent help.
Social workers embedded with police officers search for people to convince to come to the diversion center to get into the system.
In December, the soft launch of a rehabilitation center that repurposes the Carnegie Building opened its doors. The Carnegie’s next door and connects people with social services including housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Meanwhile, this year Catholic Community Services will open a supportive homeless housing apartment complex in central Everett with 65 units for people identified as chronically homeless —people who have been on the streets for years. Some in this category may be people the mission shelter might reject because of alcohol or drug abuse. There will be medical and other assistance at the supportive housing center.
Veterans services has a network of private landlords it gives subsidies to set vets up with housing. There are long-term and short-term solutions, and Gadek estimates more than 1,200 veterans have found shelter through the program.
Not everyone wants the help, especially those who have hunkered down. There is a military culture and creed to not accept failure, and asking for help means they have failed, Gadek said.
Even so, the death toll may still continue, and some will reject the services.
“No number is acceptable,” Gadek said. “We long for the day we don’t have a vigil.”
The county’s list
These individuals were memorialized at the Dec. 21 Homeless Remembrance Day Vigil as people who died from Dec. 22, 2017 to Dec. 21, 2018.
John H. Jr.
Charles W. Jr.
“Bicycle John” Doe
Scott A. - U.S. Navy
Christopher M. - U.S. Army
Jonathan L. - U.S. Navy
Donald P. - U.S. Navy
Michael H. - U.S. Marine Corps
List source: Vigil organizers within Snohomish County government
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