Members of the Sultan community as well as local resource providers packed city hall last Wednesday to attend Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick’s Summit to discuss social services and community needs.
Approximately 50 citizens and representatives from local agencies attended the meeting which took place from 1 to 3 p.m. and was facilitated by Mayor Eslick. An additional citywide block watch meeting was also held on Wednesday at city hall from 7 to 9 p.m. during which the mayor provided a recap of the day’s events so that those who could not attend during the day could learn what was discussed.
Mayor Eslick began the meeting by asking attendees how many of them had accessed social services at some point in their lives. Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.
“So you understand the importance of social services,” said Eslick. “We as a community, absolutely have to have them in place.”
As a method for demonstrating how far the city has come, the meeting began with two slideshows which had been compiled by Snohomish County Sheriff’s office volunteer Ray Coleman. The slideshows showed the area located on the south side of U.S. 2 near the river once notorious for a large homeless and transient population.
The pictures documented what the homeless encampment of several years ago looked like, and also showed current conditions due to transient individuals having once again taken up residence in the area. The area, which has been most recently used by the homeless, was purchased by Snohomish County last fall using land conservation grant funding. The county is hoping to turn the area into a park, but unfortunately, in its current condition, the property is dangerous and highly unsanitary.
The final two “residents” of the area were recently evicted by the sheriff’s office, and the city is currently seeking permission from the county to begin cleaning up the property. An officer familiar with the site shared that the area is full of garbage, old and rotted clothing, shoes, propane canisters, lawn chairs, cooking equipment, empty beer cans and other detritus. The vicinity is permeated with the stench of urine and human fecal matter.
Prior to the meeting, the mayor had spent her morning touring the area with members of Sultan City staff, escorted by deputies from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office. Sultan Grants and Economic Development Coordinator Donna Murphy took photos, which Coleman had incorporated into one of his slideshows. Eventually Coleman came to a picture of Mayor Eslick holding up what looked like a pillow case. She had found it in one of the homeless camps.
It was a pillowcase that was very familiar to her.
“I found it today,” said Mayor Eslick, explaining that the pillowcase was stolen when her home was burglarized in February. Thieves had used the pillowcase as a convenient method for catching everything as they emptied her entire jewelry drawer.
After stealing her jewelry, a laptop, her husband’s medications as well as some other items, thieves brazenly returned to the mayor’s home later on that same day and took her television.
The meeting progressed with many local resource providers and residents giving their perspectives on what Sultan can do to alleviate the illegal drug activity and trim the homeless population while still continuing to provide services to families who legitimately need them.
The very crux of the issue seems to be a sort of catch-22. While Sultan needs to be able to provide the resources to help its low income families, some residents feel that it’s the city’s high level of services which continue to attract a significant number of homeless individuals.
Volunteers of America Regional Vice President Bob Reese stressed the fact that many of the homeless individuals they encounter have serious emotional and mental health issues. He shared that across the country, service organizations have realized that it is actually cheaper to house these individuals, and then deal with their mental issues, than it is to deal with their 911 calls and all the other costs associated with emergency services.
He stated that unfortunately, in Snohomish County, there are insufficient resources to be able to accomplish widespread housing of that nature.
Many residents offered suggestions such as limiting food and clothing bank services to those who have performed some sort of community service. Or, for substance abusers, requiring a certain number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings before they are able to continue receiving assistance.
Sultan will hold another meeting at 5 p.m. at Sultan City Hall on Wednesday, July 2, to establish a task force to continue working towards a solution. For further information contact Sultan City Hall at (360) 793-2231.