Snohomish County officials work to help homeless people suffering from addiction

EVERETT, Wash. -- Snohomish County officials are working to save the lives of homeless people addicted to heroin and opioids.

State officials say in 2016, 90 people died from opioid and heroin abuse in Snohomish County.

Officials in the county are planning to open the doors to a diversion center. The goal is to get people out of homeless camps, fight drug addiction, and possibly start a new life.

“I’m still floored and surprised by the conditions we see in the camps,” said Lauren Rainbow, a law enforcement social worker with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

For three years, she and several other social workers and sheriff’s deputies have worked to help with the homeless issue in the county.

Rainbow walks through these homeless camps offering assistance to anyone in need. She says one of the biggest problems within the homeless camps is addiction.

“It’s not any other type of drug we’ve dealt with before,” said Bud McCurry. a deputy with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

McCurry works alongside social workers, like Rainbow, trying to help the people who live in these camps.

McCurry says trying to save these people who are struggling with addiction is doing so much more for the community than just arresting them.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

But McCurry and Rainbow, and the rest of the sheriff’s team, have been limited with the resources they can offer. That is, until now.

The county plans to open a diversion center to help homeless people get out of these camps and get healthy.

The center will be located in the former work-release facility on the Snohomish County campus at 1918 Wall St.

It will offer about 44 beds, for both men and women, for upwards of 15 days. Prospective participants will be identified by county law enforcement, like Rainbow and McCurry.

The program will provide mental health, addiction treatment, job training and housing options, officials say.

Other people in the community who work with the homeless say this new project will be a big help for Snohomish County.

“This will make a huge difference this summer throughout the population,” said Robert Smiley, the founder of The Hand Up Project, an organization which offers help to the homeless.

This work is important to Smiley because it was not too long ago he was the one living in a camp.

Smiley says if something like the Snohomish County Diversion Center existed when he was homeless, it would have helped him turn his life around so much quicker.

The county hopes to have the diversion center running sometime in May. It will cost about $1.5 million annually to operate.