Social workers paired up with police officers in the fight against homelessness and addiction

EVERETT, Wash. -- It’s a new and unconventional strategy against homelessness.

Social workers are now paired up with police officers.

On Friday, Q13 News went along with Kaitlyn Dowd.

She was dressed in street clothes and looked like she was about to go on hike, but Dowd is a social worker embedded in the Everett Police Department.

“We don’t ever give up hope on people,” Dowd said.

She is one of two social workers in the department and they are not waiting for cases to come to them.

Instead, they brave the elements, venturing into places most people would not go.

The majority of times the social workers make visits to homeless encampments or other known areas where homeless people are.

In 2017, they made more than 1,800 contacts; many of those are new people.

Like the man and woman they found living in squalor in a tent on Friday. The two were open to receiving help.

“Why not keep trying? We see so many great successes from people,” Dowd said.

They hope Jeffrey Hunter Taylor will be one of them. He’s been homeless for about a year.

“They come up to you in street clothes and be open,” Taylor said.

Taylor, who has been homeless for about a year, says the social workers are less intimidating than an officer in uniform.

“It’s fresh talking to people who cares, who listens -- that’s a big thing listening and caring,” Taylor said.

Social workers met Taylor for the first time on Thursday and a day later they gave Taylor a bus pass and ride to a local hospital.

“First time I’ve ever had an Orca card,” said Taylor.

Social workers know it will be a long road before Taylor is off the streets.

“If we help now, there will be less in the long run and if we are not working on it now it’s going to cost more in medical services and police department,” social worker Kelli Roark said.

Police officers know they can’t arrest their way out of the crisis anymore so they are trying something new.

“A unique opportunity and an awesome opportunity,” police officer Inci Yarkut said.

Two years ago, Snohomish County voters narrowly rejected a sales tax increase that would have added more social workers to team up with sheriff's deputies.

Since then, tax revenue has risen on its own, allowing the county and the cities of Monroe, Everett and Marysville to pair more social workers with police officers.