Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Two Women Find Support In An Unlikely Place: Snohomish County Law Enforcement

Shari Ireton
Snohomish County Sheriff's Department
Julia McCracken (right) and Shandell Orr (middle) speak with Gov. Jay Inslee during a recent visit in Snohomish County.

If you live in Snohomish County, you've likely seen the effects of what many call the opioid epidemic for about ten years. 

Property crime has gone up, many people are living on the streets, the courts and jail are clogged, and more people than ever are dying of overdoses.

The usual approach to a crisis like this one would be to arrest, lock up and release. But that wasn't making much of a difference.

In an effort to have some kind of impact, county leaders agreed to take a different approach. They created an "Office of Neighborhoods" unit inside the sheriff's department nearly three years ago.

It was designed as a "wrap-around" approach that supports people addicted to opioids who are ready to turn their life around.

Two women who have taken part in this new way of helping people recover have seen positive results.

When Shandell Orr first met members of the "Office of Neighborhoods" team, she was ready to give up completely. Her three children had been taken away from her, and she was living on the street using heroin.

"I just remember walking down the street," she said, "and I just sat down because I was tired of walking."

Two members of the unit jumped out of their vehicle to check in with her. Orr says they asked how she was, and she broke down in tears, asking for help. The team began making phone calls that day to get Orr into detox, followed by inpatient treatment for her drug use.

"They see the potential in me. You know, I've never had that before, someone who has so much hope and faith in me. It gives me the confidence to continue on," Orr said.

It took Julia McCracken five months to finally accept help from the "Office of Neighborhoods" unit. She was living in a homeless encampment with her husband at the time, whom she describes as abusive and controlling. They were both using drugs.

"As an addict, you don't have any kind of support system," she said. "You got nobody that's going to follow through. Nobody really wants anything to do with you. I used to always say that these guys pretty much reached their hand down into my dark, deep, nasty pit."

McCracken says the sheriff's department unit has become a motivation for her because she doesn't want to let them team down. She has been in recovery for the last two years, has a full-time job, a new man in her life and her family is with her again.

Orr's journey has been slightly different. She had a bad day last year and didn't reach out for help. Orr used again, but says when she told the team what happened, they still embraced her.

"They wanted to make sure that they could get me right back on that path.... They were right there with me. They didn't make me feel bad," she said.

Orr has not used since that day and is focused on her mental health. She said she has been reaching out more often to the team, and has reunited with her three kids.

This story is the first of a two-part series about Snohomish County's "Office of Neighborhoods" unit. In the second part, KNKX takes a ride with the team.

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.