Proposed narcotics rehab rule may not preclude federal dollars for county's hotel buys, but it would have to be applied narrowly and County Council split on whether it is ethical
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — County Councilman Nate Nehring's effort to introduce a stipulation that illicit drug users must go through treatment as a condition of being given shelter in county-funded housing for homeless individuals has received a more detailed review.
The county prosecutor's office did some research and believes the stipulation could be applied narrowly without jeopardizing the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding the county is relying on to buy two area hotels.
The defining line is whether a person is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA protects people who have been diagnosed by a physician as having a substance abuse disorder by defining that they have a disability. It does not cover people who use illegal drugs, a county policy analyst explained.
“ARPA does not expressly prohibit the county from requiring substance abuse treatment as a condition for housing for those using drugs illegally,” the policy analyst explained, although other sources the county might like to tap for future homeless housing efforts might be stricter.
An amendment was filed to get around that. It asks to embed a drug treatment mandate into any county shelter project if the grant funding source allows it.
Council Chair Megan Dunn has consistently opposed the idea of establishing the requirement. She said the mandate “is not based on best practices” for tackling homelessness, she said at an Aug. 23 council committee meeting, and last week said the mandate would violate civil rights.
The conversation is currently paused until the County Council fills a vacant seat so the whole council can discuss further. Councilwoman Stephanie Wright resigned Monday, Aug. 29 to join County Executive Dave Somers’ cabinet.
The council agreed 3-1 to continue the conversation to a future date to be decided after Wright’s seat is filled.
Dunn cast the “no” vote, and believes the conversation should stop.
It “violates public trust” to continue to entertain the topic, Dunn said last week, and called it “a stalling tactic on the hotels” which could ultimately put project funding at risk if it passes.
— A County Council majority last week approved proceeding to purchase two hotels for nearly $20 million, one in Everett and one in Edmonds, to convert to short-term transition housing for people experiencing homelessness.
The council did not attach a well-publicized contingency to require drug users to go through rehabilitation to be let into housing. County Executive Dave Somers said this contingency would remove the county's ability to use federal funding to feasibly make the hotel purchases.
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