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Homeless outreach counselors start Capitol Hill patrols with East Precinct officers

Downtown isn't so far from Capitol Hill

Downtown, where MID patrols began, isn’t so far from Capitol Hill (Image: CHS)


As Mayor Ed Murray seeks more local, state, and federal funding to address the growing crisis, one successful homelessness outreach program has made its way to Capitol Hill.

Outreach counselors from the Metropolitan Improvement District have begun joining East Precinct officers on morning patrols. Cal Anderson is a regular part of the beat. It’s part of a long term strategy to do the hard work of confronting chronic homelessness: Counselors learn who sleeps on the street by name, what issues they face, and slowly, try to find ways to help.

“It’s really a relationship model,” said MID vice president Dave Willard.

Outreach workers often start with offering people socks or blankets to open up a conversation, Willard said. They can also provide city and regional bus tickets, motel vouchers, connections to homeless shelters, and other social services.

The effort follows promises made in the wake of a shooting at Broadway and Pike in November to bring more services to Pike/Pine to help free up East Precinct officers who have found themselves on the front lines of Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

There are currently two outreach workers assigned to Capitol Hill and a third drug abuse and mental health counselor on the way. Willard said the program is on the search for an empty storefront or small office space in the neighborhood. “Just a place to meet with people out of the rain … a table, a couple chairs, maybe a coffee pot,” he said. You can email Willard with any ideas.

MID outreach workers have operated around downtown for nearly two years, but had been increasingly finding their way up the Hill to follow clients. Plans were put in place last year to expand the program full time in the E Precinct.

MID conducts its outreach work as a part of a contract between the City and the Downtown Seattle Association. It also organizes the Multi-Disciplinary Team — a group of law enforcement and nonprofit organizations that meet to discuss everything form systemic homeless issues to specific individuals on the street. The MDT also serves as a resource for MID outreach.

Meanwhile, another program aimed at diverting drug users — and to a lesser extent, sex worker — from jail and into treatment programs will soon make its way to Capitol Hill. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion was launched in Seattle in 2011 and has since been replicated in cities across the country. It works by placing drug use suspects into counseling before they’re booked into jail. Typically, an officer will call a LEAD outreach worker to assess a drug user they think may be a good candidate for the program (no warrants or violent criminal history). The outreach worker then schedules a crisis assessment offered through Evergreen Treatment Services.

Results from the program have been promising. LEAD participants were 87% less likely to be incarcerated after entry than those who didn’t participate, according to a 2-year study (PDF) of the program recently competed by the University of Washington. They also had 58% lower odds of a subsequent arrest after entry.

Participants were also far less of a burden on taxpayers than those that didn’t participate, resulting in an average of $2,100 in savings in the criminal justice system.

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8 thoughts on “Homeless outreach counselors start Capitol Hill patrols with East Precinct officers

  1. This is fine, but does nothing to solve the serious affordable housing shortage we have. This will do literally nothing to reduce the number of people we have on the streets. You can outreach the heck out of folks, but NEED to have the housing to back it up. Hopefully it will bring some solace and companionship to people who are living on the streets right now.

    • I’m a little pessimistic too. If this program is as successful as is claimed, why are there are increasing numbers of homeless on our streets, and camping in our public spaces?

      I think a “housing first” approach is really the only thing that has the possibility of reducing the numbers of homeless in our city.

    • I disagree. The cycle of addiction, arrest, and homelessness is often driven largely by addiction. Treating that is a big step toward restoring normalcy and further progress in individuals’ lives.

  2. What are the downtown business improvement district outreach workers’ qualifications for the job? MID’s focus is seemingly on keeping sidewalks clean and shunting demonstrators away from retail shoppers. Are they really hiring qualified social workers like Evergreen’s?

    The UW study found that LEAD is clearly effective. I’m leery of the downtown businesses’ program. Why are they doing their own thing instead of supporting a proven-effective program that is already in place?

    • Your first question is a good one, Phil. I get the feeling that the outreach workers, while well-intentioned, are really just acting as friends for homeless people. Will they really be effective in moving significant numbers of the addicted, mentally ill, etc into transitional/long-term housing?

      But the focus of this MID program is different than what LEAD does….the latter is for people who have committed crimes and might qualify for diversion from the criminal justice system. The MID program is basically social work.

      • They’re different, for sure. And those differences go far beyond the booking-diversionary nature of LEAD. It would be unfortunate for us to let up on the pressure to fund LEAD expansion as a result of word that the downtown business association are expanding their program up the hill.

        The MID’s program has several specific things to offer people. It is very likely having positive effects on people, though it is bit band-aid-like in nature. It seems well-intentioned. I don’t believe its effects have been studied.

        LEAD provides deep and intensive assistance to specific people, including those who are most burdensome to the community and who are the most difficult to reach. Case managers build trust and help those people get what they need to make long-term behavior changes–identification cards, bus passes, long-term housing, drug treatment, and more–over years-long periods of one-on-one engagement.

        From the Huffington Post article linked above:

        Depending on their needs, [LEAD clients] may receive free apartments, clean clothes, college tuition, books for school or even yoga classes. Counselors lead them through a bureaucratic maze, helping them apply for jobs, food stamps, health insurance and other essentials.

        Sharing of information between police, prosecutors, and case workers helps everyone involved make better decisions about how to support LEAD clients and facilitates intervention when needed.