Leaders in Snohomish County are expanding their approach to combating the opioid crisis by opening a new diversion center this month. It's a pilot program meant to temporarily house nonviolent, low-level offenders with behavioral health and substance abuse issues.
Instead of ending up in jail, people can find services all under one rough in the roughly 40-bed facility.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary says he knows this move is a big shift from what law enforcement would typically do to address the crisis.
"My tag line is 'There wasn't anything I couldn't solve as a patrol cop that a pair of handcuffs wouldn't fix,'" he said. "But now I'm saying that doesn't work. No matter how you lean, right or left, it's not working. We're not fixing people in the jail. It is not a rehab facility. It is not a mental health hospital. It is a jail."
Earlier this year, the county jail added a pilot program to provide medically-assisted detox for inmates after seeing a 200 percent increase in the number of inmates seeking care because of withdrawal symptoms. Trenary says this diversion center could help take pressure off jail staff.
Potential clients for the facility will be identified by members of the sheriff's department's "Office of Neighborhoods" unit. They will be brought in for screenings and enrolled into treatment programs.
"I, personally, cannot imagine trying to live out in these elements," social worker and unit member Lauren Rainbow said. "It's cold. It's wet. It's dangerous in those camps. So to be able to offer people an immediate resource is going to be amazing. It's going to make my job not only easier, but even more meaningful."
Before the diversion center, people would sometimes have to wait several days before getting placed in an inpatient treatment facility. For many, that was long enough to either change their mind about getting help, or, in some cases, overdose.
The facility will cost about $1.5 million to run. Much of the money for the first year is coming from the state.
Snohomish County leaders will need to find another way to fund the diversion center if they decide to keep it open.