The sign is a shock and a warning.
It hangs on the fence surrounding what used to be America’s Best Value Inn at 221st and Highway 99. This fall, Snohomish County bought this property and another motel in Everett, to remodel and reopen as bridge housing — a first step to help the chronically homeless. The county purchased the Edmonds property for $9 million in August and knew about its drug- and crime-related history. Last April, an Edmonds police officer shot and killed a man who advanced with a knife outside the hotel. In October, officers arrested a Mountlake Terrace man after a two-and-a half-hour standoff in the hotel. Police have responded to a number of drug calls on or near the property.
But after that sign went up a week ago, KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson used it in a broadcast to spark fears that the hotel had been the site of meth manufacturing and questioned the county’s purchase.
Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring, who appeared on the radio show, said he is not happy with the way his comments were used. Nehring said that during the program, it appeared to him “that at least some of these rooms were being used as meth labs.” But he called the host’s handling of his comments a “misunderstanding” that unfairly implied “that the county had ownership when the motel was contaminated with meth.” Monson’s post has since been taken off KIRO’s website.
The county said it put up the signs only as a warning, as part of the cleanup process. County Communications Director Kent Patton said that there was no sign of drug manufacturing in the hotel. As a part of the sales agreement before the county took over, said Patton, “we did the testing, tested the whole bloody thing.” The county did find high levels of drug contamination “in every room, in every common area… but not high enough to show the manufacturing of drugs, but enough people in enough rooms (were) doing meth often enough that it became a problem.”
In a statement, County Executive Director Ken Klein, the point person on the project, wrote that the county taking over the property will “eliminate a threat to public safety and a blight on the community. The hotel stopped taking guests as we were closing the transaction. In fact, the purchase and sale agreement required that the seller vacate all rooms.”
The county took control of the motel Dec. 5; none of the rooms was occupied. The former owner is paying the county to clean up the property; the $689,000 to do it was deducted from the sales price. The cleanup and repairs will take several months; the county hopes to have the new bridge housing open around the end of summer. The site will retain the 55 living units and provide space for on-site staff.
The county plan defines bridge housing as not just getting people off the streets with a roof over their heads; it is intended to provide wrap-around services 24/7 to start people toward permanent housing. The county will contract with a social service provider, which will hire staff for security, job search, education, counseling and health services. The county has not yet said how it will decide who gets to move in and whether the site might take couples or small families.
Security will be on site at all times and the operation will run with a code of conduct. That code, Patton said, includes language that says if “you use drugs you can be kicked out.” But the facility does not require that tenants are in drug treatment either before or when they move into housing. “We rely,” Patton said, “on the caseworkers and others there working with these people to say let’s get you some help, lets go in that direction” of drug treatment. It is not, added Patton, “a cookie cutter approach, but rather designed for each individual (who) essentially will have a caseworker.”
It’s a fine line that the staff will have to navigate. Councilmember Nehring, a critic of the county plan, said “I think from my perspective the ideal way is to require some sort of treatment program and (tenants) be required to sign up” before they get housing. Nehring added he hopes the program succeeds and “people will volunteer to move into treatment. I don’t have a ton of confidence that is going to happen, but I hope so.”
Executive Director Klein thinks the building “will be a constructive part of making the community healthier and safer. It will also significantly increase our housing capacity for the unsheltered, an important priority for our residents and business community.”
The county has a lot at stake. Its reputation and integrity are on the line as well as the health and safety of homeless residents and the community.
— By Bob Throndsen
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