Sultan has formed a new Citizens’ Community Task Force to help address the issues of poverty, homelessness and at-risk youth in the city.
The first meeting was held on Wednesday, July 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Sultan City Hall. The task force, which is being facilitated by Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick until it gains some stability, will be meeting on a weekly basis.
The purpose for the volunteer-driven group is to work together to create viable and practical recommendations on what the city can do to help mitigate the current issues surrounding the homeless population as well as the difficulties created by those abusing drugs and alcohol.
Once the recommendations are finalized, they will be presented at a Sultan City Council meeting.
The meeting began with an opportunity for the volunteers to tour the area south of U.S. 2 to see the camps left behind by transient individuals. The occupants, who were recently evicted by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, did not bother to pack up their belongings, which remain in the woods.
They also left a huge amount of garbage.
While the camps seemed to be deserted during the tour, Sultan Police Chief Monte Beaton noticed small changes indicating that individuals had been there since his last patrol of the area. In one of the camps, a bicycle frame leaned against a makeshift workstation, the surface of which was rife with cans of spray paint and other random objects including canned food, batteries, dirty Q-tips, cooking utensils and tools; everything coated with a thick layer of grime.
The disassembled bicycle frame, once yellow, had been in the midst of getting a new paint job; the yellow areas were nearly covered with black spray paint.
Empty 24-ounce cans of “Joose,” a beverage known for its high alcoholic content, were scattered throughout the campsite. Beyond the workstation lay piles of moldering garbage, clothing, shoes, sleeping bags, empty alcohol bottles, kitchen implements, and larger objects like wheelbarrows, small cooking stoves and buckets.
Several bike frames were propped up against trees, or discarded haphazardly in the bushes. Other bike parts including handlebars and wheels were strewed about the area with no semblance of order.
Most of the camps were similar, with great heaps of rotting trash piled indiscriminately throughout. The structures were primarily constructed from tarps and tents, usually with multiple sleeping bags that could be found both underneath the plastic tarps as well as hanging from ropes that had been strewn up in an effort to create additional privacy. One camp even had a make-do barbwire fence surrounding its perimeter.
The disparity between the beauty of the landscape and the squalid filth of the camps was striking.
The meeting convened after the tour was over.
Information collected during the June 25 Sultan Community Summit meeting was provided to all the attendees. Community problems identified during the summit meeting included things like weak prosecutorial standards which do not sufficiently punish those charged with non-violent criminal offenses like drug possession, drug distribution or burglary, the lack of activities in the Sultan area oriented towards the youth, a lack of effective enforcement when it comes to discouraging and punishing unlawful behavior, squatters, speeding on 8th, 4th and Elm Streets and more.
After the recap of the summit meeting, discussion ensued on how to best address the overwhelming amount of garbage that has been left across the highway. Ideas on how to dissuade people from simply taking up residence there all over again were also discussed.
Snohomish County Fire District 5 Commissioner Steve Fox suggested an intensive effort be directed at cleaning up all the garbage that has been left there. He stated that if a volunteer crew were to go over there, twice a week, and launch a thorough and continual cleanup effort, it could have a positive impact on discouraging individuals from trying to come to Sultan to live off-the-grid.
“Eventually they would realize that it’s inconvenient to live there,” said Fox. “You could start there. But you have to desire to do that.”
Volunteers of America East County Navigator Calei Vaughn stressed that it is important to remember that there is no monolithic group of individuals causing all the trouble in Sultan, and that referring to these individuals as “them” or “those people,” is counterproductive. There are folks suffering from mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as individuals who are indeed homeless.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it, I don’t think Sultan has a homeless problem right now,” said Vaughn. “We have a drug problem. We have an alcohol problem.”
She also stressed that there is an issue with displaced youth “couch-surfing” throughout the community.
Among meeting attendees was Mandy Geiger, who has lived in Sultan for 32 years. She proposed several solutions during the recent summit meeting including the idea of requiring a certain amount of community service hours in exchange for some of the services typically provided freely by several organizations in Sultan. These services include things like free clothing, free food and free hot meals.
Vaughn touched on this concept again, stating that if the service organizations could work together to establish some guidelines, it could provide an effective means for reducing the number of individuals taking advantage of these different services.
“Maybe someone needs to get a 12-step meeting slip signed to come have our free dinner tonight,” said Vaughn. “There are ways that don’t always cost money.”
The Citizens’ Community Task Force is seeking additional members. The next meeting will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 9, at Sultan City Hall.