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Homeless accuse County of ignoring their needs

By Mario Lotmore | Lynnwood Times Staff

Since June 19, about 50 homeless residents have been camped at the Northeast corner of the Snohomish County Campus.  The camp houses 30 tents, is enclosed in a chain linked fence, contains four porta potties, and three washing stations.

Between June 21 to June 23, the Lynnwood Times contacted the County Executive Dave Somers several times via telephone and Facebook to provide details regarding the camp. As of June 23, he has not responded to our requests. 

The Lynnwood Times also reached out to Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, Human Services Director, Wendy Roullier, Administrative Assistant to the Director of Human Services, and Lacey Harper, County Executive Chief of Staff.  Roullier was on furlough and Harper did reply to our email stating, “I will need more time.”

Several businesses contacted the Lynnwood Times, concerned about the camp.  According to business owners, they were not notified of the camp and feared it may become another autonomous zone such as the C.H.O.P. in Seattle.

“I don’t know why the county would allow what is happening in Seattle to come here,” said a local businessowner who would like to remain anonymous.

Lynnwood Times photo of homeless camp on the Snohomish County Campus on June 21, 2020. Photo by Mario Lotmore.

The Lynnwood Times interviewed over a dozen individuals in the camp, an Everett Police officer, and corresponded with the County Sheriff’s office to gain more understanding of the situation.

All of the individuals we interviewed who are staying at the camp told us no one from Human Services have approached them proposing services.

“I want someone to help me step-by-step, but no one has been here,” said Elaine.

Elaine shared with the Lynnwood Times her story of ups and downs but out of respect for Elaine’s wishes we will not publish it.  Elaine told us that the residents of the camp need water to drink and for food preparation.

“I was living in the woods in a tent by myself,” said Amy. “That was scary. I feel a lot safer here and the men protect us.”

Amy continued by telling us she would like a social worker to come listen and help. “We need blankets, tents, toilet paper and tarps…the County doesn’t look at us like human beings.”

Jennifer, another camp resident, shared she would like someone from human services to discuss Community Action Partnership (CAP) opportunities with them. According to the Snohomish County website, the Community Action Partnership is a national anti-poverty movement that supports programs to help individuals and families overcome the effects of poverty and improve their economic situations.

The Lynnwood Times reached out to the Sherriff’s office to determine if the Office of Neighborhoods was aware of the camp on the County campus.

According to Courtney O’Keefe, she stated that Human Services is leading the effort of the camp and that the Sheriff’s office is helping with safety discussions. As of the date of this article, the Lynnwood Times has not received any response to multiple inquiries to the County Executive Office regarding their lack of engagement alleged by the residents in the camp. 

Although the Lynnwood Times spoke with over a dozen individuals directly, dozens more joined in our conversation with camp residents and shared similar sentiments.

Members of the camp told us that on June 17, they were notified to move from staying in front of the Carnegie building.  All of the individuals moved to the northeast corner of the Snohomish County campus on Friday, June 19. This was confirmed by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office.

On June 19, cleaning crews arrived at the Carnegie building to pressure wash the sidewalks, remove graffiti, cleanup waste, etc.

According to the Sheriff’s office, the camp is a temporary area for homeless residents to stay. The County Executive’s office did not respond to our inquiry for the expected duration of the cleaning nor the camp.

The Sheriff’s Office is working in collaboration with the Everett Police Department to respond to any incidents that require law enforcement. On Friday, a Snohomish county employee (not a Sheriff’s Office employee) was walking through the courtyard and was attacked by an adult female. The employee was able to fend off the assailant and law enforcement responded.

As of June 22, law enforcement has responded to two overdoses and there have been a couple fights at the camp. But it is important to note that, for the most part, nearly all the individuals in the camp have been very compliant and cooperative.

A few gentlemen we spoke with complained about Everett Police officers harassing them for identification and only allowing those that have a physical tent to stay overnight.  The Everett Police officer on site told the Lynnwood Times that this was for the safety of the female occupants and for the safety of residents overall.

Many told the Lynnwood Times that they were disappointed in the county’s lack of commitment to their needs during COVID-19.

“They can spend one million dollars a month to house nineteen COVID patients in the Arena but they can’t help us?” said Jennifer. “Where is the money going? Do you know how many of us they could have helped?”

On April 1, Snohomish County opened a COVID-19 isolation and quarantine site at the Angel of the Winds Arena in downtown Everett. On June 18, it was announced that the Snohomish County’s coronavirus quarantine site was being moved from Angel of the Winds Arena to the county-owned Evergreen Fairgrounds in Monroe. Only 26 people in total have used the site.

In a May 21 press release, the County Executive, Dave Somers, thanked the County Council for approving his grant programs that were part of the COVID-19 package that was funded by the CARES Act.  From the package, $25 million were allocated for human/social services and housing.

Those in the camp simply want help. The camp residents are not affiliated with the C.H.O.P. in Seattle and do not want to permanently be on the street.

“I heard the Salvation Army is renting this space for us,” said D a male occupant who would like to remain anonymous. “We want housing and to live like human beings. With this fencing I feel like I’m in a cage. They moved us near cameras to spy on us… we are human beings.”

In a March 25 press release, it was announced that the Salvation Army was awarded approximately $137,000 to temporarily provide shelter for up to 40 people per night at the Carnegie Resource Center. The County also awarded an additional $250,000 in funding to The Salvation Army to move individuals into 44 units in an Everett motel.

Amiga Debbie, owner of Connecting Business with Charity, was there both days with us.  She provided services and much needed supplies to the residents of the camp.  She has been volunteering her services to help those less fortunate for over 10 years. To learn more about Connecting Business with Charity, visit www.amigadebbie.org.

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