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In Everett, a Scholarship Program Helps People Get Into Rehab

Credit Susie Howell
Everett embedded social worker Kaitlyn Dowd on an encampment visit.

The City of Everett is trying to get creative with people suffering from addiction. For those who have decided that they really need help, and are serious about getting it, the City of Everett wants to give it to them, in the form of a scholarship.

On the 10th floor of the Wall Street Building in Everett, in a very quiet conference room with a beautiful view of the Puget Sound, I meet Kaitlyn Dowd. She’s a social worker embedded with the Everett Police Department, and this isn’t where she normally finds herself on a typical day of work.

“Kind of our office, so to speak, is the front seat of a police car, essentially. So we do most of our work out of the cars and out in the field, you know, connecting with clients or community members or providers," Dowd says. “Most of our clients are people who are experiencing homelessness, who need some sort of service to assist them in getting stable.”

And many are struggling with chemical dependency.

“We’re seeing lots of heroin -- a lot of heroin. And meth as well. And you know, smoking, or IV use, or pills, it really depends," Dowd says.

'"We Can't Arrest Our Way Out of this Problem'

Kaitlyn Dowd says every person is different. For some, simple detox might do the trick. For others, an in-state, 30 day Medicaid-funded treatment facility may do. But since 2016, the City of Everett has been part of another avenue towards helping people get into the right treatment, by being part of a program called PAARI.

“The PAARI program is the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative. It’s a program that was started in Gloucester Massachusetts by a police chief who was finally like ‘we can't arrest our way out of this problem,” says Dowd.

They began to build partnerships with treatment facilities. And very quickly, other police departments around the country started to follow suit, including the Everett Police Department.

“So now we have treatment facilities who will scholarship a treatment bed for police departments who have embedded social workers, or police departments who are just partnered with PAARI and want to get folks help instead of send them to jail.”

An Unusual Scholarship

It might not be what you typically think when you hear the word “scholarship.” What it means is that someone who is struggling with addiction can get a bed in a treatment facility free of charge to not only them, but also to the city. The facility itself covers the tab. And that’s worth noting, because these facilities are private, and can normally come with a hefty price tag.

“I mean it can be anywhere from 20 to 40 to 60 thousand dollars a month,” says Dowd. 

And unlike the 30 day in-state Medicaid-funded facilities, treatment at private facilities can last up to two years. So the savings for clients is huge.

But there are a couple of catches. First, there aren’t currently any participating private facilities in the state of Washington in the scholarship program, so if someone local wants in, they are heading out of state for their treatment. And second, you’ve got to be serious about wanting to go.

“So we usually put them through a couple of tests. Why don’t you go to the doctors to get an exam to make sure you’re all healthy? We don’t need to see the results, but do that and let us know when it’s all done. Why don’t you go and get a new ID? If you need help with that, let us know. But we try to do a lot to see how much are you going to do to show that you are really, really invested in this.”

So you have to be serious, and you have to be ready to go. There are a limited number of beds, so when a bed opens up, you take it.

'It Took All My Pain Away'

One of the people who was suffering from addiction in Everett is Felicia Davidson. The story with Felicia’s addiction is a common one. She’s had severe scoliosis since childhood, and in her late teens, her mother gave her some of her medication for the pain. It started with Vicodin, and progressed to other pills like Percocet and Oxycontin.

“I liked how it took my pain away, but it took all my pain away. Like emotionally and physically, so I was like, I like feeling like this," Davidson said.

And there was emotional pain that Felecia wanted to have taken away, following the death of her then boyfriend when he was in Hawaii.

“He was partying, and driving a moped, and got hit head on. And they don’t have a helmet law in Hawaii or anything, so that’s when I was like it, I don’t care, I just want to get high,” she says.

'Who Am I?'

Things didn’t get a whole lot easier for Felecia after that. She found a new guy, but he was a user too, and that relationship turned out to be abusive. Pills got to be too expensive, and heroin made its way into the picture.

“He pawned everything I ever had that had value. It just goes back to, I had no self-respect for myself at that time, and I just put up with it,” Davidson says. 

Eventually they lost their house. Felicia decided she had enough, and moved back in with her dad. But the problems didn’t stop there. Felecia found herself asking random strangers in Everett if they had anything she could use to get high.

“And I ended up meeting this one guy, and I ended up doing something ... like, no morals. Because I was in my dad’s car, and he offered me all this , and I was hesitant, but in the moment I like didn’t care. And then I started caring. Right during I was, no, I’ve got to go. So I kicked him out of the car and went back to my dad’s and I like broke down and started crying and I was like, this is not me ... who am I? Hooking up with some guy for drugs. That’s not who I want to be.”

Ready to Ask for Help

At this point that she realized that she couldn’t do it alone. She started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. A woman at one of the meetings added Felecia to a Facebook group, where Felecia saw a post about the scholarship program in Everett. That’s when she called Kaitlyn Dowd, the social worker.

“So we decided to meet up at Starbucks and kind of talk about her situation and really what her intentions were as far as getting help," says Dowd. "She really needed to go to treatment; she felt that was the best thing for her. So she would need to call or text to check in every day, she was very motivated and it was very obvious. You can really tell when someone is motivated.”

After a couple weeks, Kaitlyn was able to find Felecia a bed in South Florida. Felecia packed a bag, and was on a plane for treatment in a private facility, a former hotel, at no cost to her or the city. But that’s when the real work started.

“I mean physically it sucked. I mean just the body ache for me, because I have chronic pain, that was the hardest thing to get used to. But emotionally, all the you avoid, by getting high, you have to deal with it.”

Felecia fought through and completed her treatment. And instead of coming back to Everett, she stayed in South Florida, got a job, a dog, and a place to live. And she’s stayed clean. She decided to stay in Florida, at least for the time being, partly because the old familiar triggers of Everett wouldn’t be there.

But there are new problems. A week earlier, a relationship she had become deeply involved in came to a stop, and Felicia faced the challenge of coping without drug use.

“He straight up told me that he was going to make me fall in love with him, and he did. And then he just ghosted me," says Davidson.

"It’s really hard because it makes you feel like something is wrong with you. It’s a struggle. But you’re not getting high as a coping mechanism. So you’re just dealing with it. But dealing with it involves a lot of tears. Yeah. And a lot of dog snuggles, for me; at least I have my dog. I know he loves me.

"I’m just immensely grateful for the program, and the opportunity, to, you know, like have a life, even though it’s a struggle still. The fact that I’m able to wake up and go about my day and not get high is like a blessing. ...  It’s possible. If I can do it, I know that other people can do it.”

Felicia misses her friends and family back home. She has visions of returning to the Pacific Northwest, someday, this time sober and healthy for good.

Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.