Morning Crank: A Dramatic Turnaround

1. All Seattle Public Library restrooms will soon be equipped with containers for needle disposal, following a six-month pilot program at the library system’s Ballard, Capitol Hill, University, and downtown branches. The library initiated that pilot after an employee at the Ballard branch was stuck with a needle while removing the trash from the women’s restroom, as I exclusively reported in March.

The decision marks a dramatic turnaround in library policy from just seven months ago, when library spokeswoman Andra Addison said that the library had no plans to install sharps containers for drug users (and diabetics) to dispose of used needles, because “We don’t allow illegal drug use in the library.”  The King County Public Library system preceded the Seattle library in installing sharps containers at branches in Burien, Renton, and Bellevue—branches where library staffers kept finding used needles on the floor, in toilets, and in trash bins.

Addison says it will cost about $2,000 to install the containers—the same ones used in the King County system—in all 60 library restrooms., and about $7,000 to empty and maintain them.  “The Library has ordered the additional sharps containers and we hope to have them installed over the course of November,” Addison says.

According to data provided by the library, the sharps containers at the downtown, Capitol Hill, Ballard, and University branches continue to be the most heavily used. Between the week of April 20 and the week of October 12, 912 sharps were discarded at the Central branch library, 348 on Capitol Hill, 234 in Ballard, and 194 in the University District.

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2. The city of Seattle won on two counts in the lawsuit filed by the owners of the Showbox on Friday, when King County Superior Court judge Mary E. Roberts ruled that legislation expanding the Pike Place Market Historic District to include the music venue did not constitute an illegal land use decision or a taking of private property. However, Roberts did agree to hear claims on two other, arguably more substantive, questions: Did the “Save the Showbox” legislation violate the state appearance of fairness doctrine, which requires officials to keep an open mind on so-called quasi-judicial land use decisions (like zoning changes for a specific property)? And did the city violate the property owners’ constitutional rights by dictating the use of the building as a music venue?

The owner of the building in which the Showbox is located, Roger Forbes, sued the city last month after the city council passed, and Mayor Jenny Durkan signed, “emergency” legislation making the two-story building part of the Pike Place Market Historical District. (The Showbox itself—that is, the venue that rents the building—is owned by the international behemoth Anschutz Entertainment Group).  The law, known as the “Save the Showbox” bill, prevented Forbes from selling the property to a developer, Onni, that had planned to build a 44-story apartment tower on the block. (The city had in fact just upzoned the block, along with the rest of First Avenue, specifically to encourage this type of development).

If the city violated the use of fairness doctrine, it will mean that all the public hearings and rallies and open discussions about the importance of  “Saving the Showbox” as a music venue—of which there have been many—were illegal, because the council should have remained neutral and refrained from holding public hearings. (Not only did the council hold public hearings, its members made signs, staged concerts, and even drafted public comments for private citizens in favor or the proposal.) If the court finds that the city violated Forbes’ rights by dictating the use of the Showbox property it will mean that the legislation thwarting Forbes’ plan to sell and develop the property was unconstitutional, and could open the city up to monetary claims.

The city is arguing that the “Save the Showbox” legislation—whose first section calls the Showbox “a significant cultural resource to Seattle and the region” whose loss “would erode the historical and cultural value of the Pike Place Market neighborhood”—in no way prevents Forbes or any future owner from shutting the Showbox down and using the property for another purpose. Forbes, pointing to the plain text of the legislation and the fact that the law gives the Pike Place Market Historical Commission the right to dictate every aspect of how the building is used, from the tenants down to the font, size, and materials used in its signage, says that’s absurd.

Forbes’ attorney noted that the city has only responded to one of the attorney’s ten public disclosure requests, making it difficult, he argued, to know “all the violations of the appearance of fairness doctrine.” For example, he said, “we just learned by happenstance that the cc staffers were writing public comments”—because of information that I obtained through my own disclosure request and reported on this site.

In dismissing the Showbox owners’ takings and land use claims, Roberts said that neither claim was ripe for consideration—in the case of the land use claim, because the owner of the property and the developer, Onni, had not filed a permit to develop the property by the time the legislation passed, and in the case of the takings claim, because the city has not issued any final decision about what kind of development is allowed on the property.

Roberts also rescheduled the remaining counts for early next fall.

Three Takeaways From the Final One Table Meeting

This post originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

Last Friday marked the long-awaited, and final, meeting of the One Table regional task force on homelessness—a group of political, nonprofit, business, and philanthropic leaders formed last year to come up with an action plan to address the root causes of homelessness in King County.

Did they do it? Not exactly. One Table’s final work product—a list of recommendations and general timelines (“within one year,” “in 3-10 years,” etc.) with no dollar figures or chains of responsibility for implementation—hasn’t changed substantially since April, when the group last met to discuss a set of “recommended actions.” Those actions include things like funding long-term rental subsidies, expanding opportunities for behavioral health jobs for people of color, creating training programs for high-wage jobs aimed at vulnerable communities, and expediting permits for affordable housing.

With that in mind, here are five key takeaways from the eight-month One Table process.

1. Nothing to see here.

Several media relations folks mentioned to me that they didn’t really publicize the final One Table meeting because, frankly, there wasn’t much news, and that was evident from the opening remarks by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Constantine touted the fact that he was moving up the timeline for issuing $100 million in housing bonds that will be paid back by future proceeds from the county’s hotel/motel tax, which will make the money available slightly earlier but does not represent new funding. (Those funds can only be used for “workforce housing” near transit stops, so it won’t directly impact people living unsheltered or in deep poverty anyway). And Durkan, whose “deal” with Amazon on an employee hours tax that would have brought in $75 million a year for housing and shelter fell through almost instantly, touted her innovation advisory council—a group of tech companies that will advise the city on homelessness, but have not committed any funding to implement whatever “solutions” they come up with—as well as several upcoming Pearl Jam charity concerts and the potential for building modular housing. None of this was news, and it set the stage for a two-hour meeting where basically nothing was announced.

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2. It’s the housing, stupid.

One Table members broke up into small groups—that is, many small tables—to discuss “root cause” areas including affordable housing, behavioral health, criminal justice, child welfare, and employment. They had half an hour to come up with a list of “solutions.” I sat in on a table that included Plymouth Housing director Paul Lambros, Seattle Housing Authority director Andrew Lofton, and Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk. Their primary recommendations? “Build and maintain more affordable housing.” This, they said, could include increasing the federal low-income housing tax credit (not likely given the current Administration’s mission of dismantling HUD and federal programs that benefit the poor), providing incentives for banks to fund construction and ongoing maintenance of low-income apartments; and making it clear to the public that, as Gates Foundation program officer Kollin Min put it, “there’s a direct correlation between the lack of housing and homelessness.”

Other groups came back with the same conclusion: Preventing homelessness and preserving existing affordable housing were important, but the region just needs more funding for housing. A similar conclusion emerged out of the groups focused on behavioral health: Without money for mental health care and substance abuse treatment, and funds to build housing for people when they get out of treatment so they don’t end up right back where they were, addressing “root causes” will be impossible. “Ultimately, the need is housing and money,” a report back from one of the behavioral health tables concluded.

3. Tribalism over regionalism.

It’s pretty clear that for all the lofty talk of “regional solutions,” the leaders of the One Table task force remain starkly divided over what will constitute the right solutions for different parts of the county and who’s to blame. Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus reiterated the points she and the leaders of four other suburban cities made in a letter urging her fellow One Table leaders to support a plan to force homeless people “who refuse treatment” into forced lockdown detox using a state law designed to allow family members to intervene on behalf of people who pose an imminent threat to themselves. “We know these individuals. We might see them on a regular basis. They’re familiar individuals and they’re not willing to accept help. At some point in time, we need to be able to say, you are going to get help,” Backus said. And she touted a church-run food bank in her cities that requires people who are capable of working to “pick up a rag and soap” or clean up garbage as a condition of receiving food.

“The cities outside of Seattle have different needs,” Backus said. “What works for Auburn, what works for Bellevue, isn’t going to work for the city of Seattle, and we have to realize that.” That is pretty much the opposite of a “regional” approach, and is unlikely to fly with the leaders of bigger governments like King County and Seattle who tend to balk at ideas like forced treatment and unpaid labor.

What will become of One Table’s recommendations remains unclear. Rachel Smith, Constantine’s chief of staff, told the group that the county has hired consultant Marc Dones with the Center for Social Innovation to “guide our work with expertise” as the county comes up with an implementation plan for the recommendations. For now, One Table’s work is concluded—and an action plan to address the root causes of homelessness remains unfinished.

Afternoon Crank: Bad News for Sound Transit, a Good Idea From Sound Transit, and Grandstanding on Forced “Treatment”

Morning Crank: By the Numbers

Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

1. $1 million: The amount of money Mayor Jenny Durkan said Pearl Jam has agreed to donate from the proceeds of two reunion shows in August to support the cause of ending homelessness .

2. 75: The number of people appointed to serve on One Table, a group of business, civic, nonprofit, activist, and elected leaders from around the region that is charged with coming up with solutions for the “root causes” of homelessness, identified as a lack of affordable housing, inadequate access to behavioral health treatment, negative impacts on kids in foster care,  criminal history that impacts many people’s ability to find housing and employment, and “education and employment gaps making housing unattainable and unaffordable.” The committee met for the first time on Monday morning.  They sat at many different tables.

3. 200,000: The approximate number of people in King County who live below the federal poverty level, currently $16,240 for a two-person household).

4. 29,462; 24,952 The number of people King County says became homeless in 2016, and the number who exited homelessness that year, respectively. After a press conference following the One Table event Monday, King County Department of Community and Human Services director Adrienne Quinn acknowledged that the number of people who are no longer listed the county’s Homeless Management Information System doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of people who are currently housed, either permanently or temporarily; 11,767 of the 24,952 recorded “exits” are listed as “destination not reported,” which means that they could be in jail, in an institution, in drug or alcohol rehab, or on the street. The only criteria for an “exit” from homelessness is that a person hasn’t sought any housing or services in King County in the past three months. “Exits from homelessness” also include hundreds of people who left the shelter system voluntarily to go back on the street; those are listed, paradoxically, as an exit from homelessness into the category “unsheltered.”

5. 35,000: The approximate reduction between 2007 and 2016 in the number of housing units that were affordable to eople making less than 50 percent of the Seattle area median income, which was $33,600 for an individual, $48,000 for a family of four, last year.

6. Three: Number of times reporters asked King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan if they planned to dissolve All Home, the agency that nominally coordinates efforts to address homelessness throughout the county, and replace it with a regional agency that would have the authority to actually implement policies, which All Home (whose director, Mark Putnam, recently resigned) does not.

7. Zero: Number of times either official answered the question directly. (Constantine also deflected questions about whether there would be a tax measure on the next November ballot to fund whatever solutions the group proposes.)

One (metaphorical) table.

8. 94: The percentage of people who have been booked into jail four or more times in the past year who suffer from some behavioral health condition, according to Brook Buettner, who manages the county’s “Familiar Faces” initiative.

9. $250. The amount Seattle CityClub, the civic engagement organization that holds monthly “Civic Cocktail” panels at the Palace Ballroom, is charging for its “Civic Boot Camp” on “Housing the Homeless,” part of a series of immersive, one-day trainings that take people who want to get involved in Seattle’s civic life on a deep dive into a single issue. Past boot camps have covered immigration, livable neighborhoods, and the waterfront. The high price of entry raised the eyebrows of some advocates for Seattle’s homeless residents, who wondered if that money would be going to agencies that provide housing and services or into CityClub’s coffers.

Diane Douglas, CityClub’s executive director, says the admission fees pay for scholarships for people who can’t afford to pay full price, stipends for the people who give presentations to the boot campers, food purchased from neighborhood businesses, and to rent space for the day from organizations working on the issue. In the case of the homelessness boot camp, she says, it makes more sense to spend the remainder of the fee supporting CityClub’s mission to get people engaged in the community by volunteering, campaigning for candidates, or donating to groups that provide direct services than to donate the proceeds directly to those groups. “When we survey people six months or a year later, we know that they’re volunteering more, they’re donating money, they’re communicating with elected officials,” Douglas says. “The purpose is really to get them engaged in the community. It’s a substantial amount of money for a day of training, but the idea is to leverage all those people so they’re all giving $250, so they’re volunteering, so they’re voting on the issues and causes that they’ve learned about.”

10. 77.4 cents: The amount a woman currently earns in Seattle for every dollar made by a man doing equivalent work, according to a presentation the Economic Opportunity Institute gave to the city council’s Housing, Health, Energy, and Workers’ Rights committee last week. Non-white women make significantly less than white women across the board, with black women, on average, earning the least; the wage gap is largest, at 29.3 percent, between Asian-American men and women.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

After Two-Year Gap, Detox Center Will Open on Beacon Hill

King County Executive Dow Constantine stands next to a detox bed at the soon-to-open Recovery Place.

The new detox and inpatient treatment center that will open later this year on Beacon Hill doesn’t look like much from the outside. A low-slung institutional building surrounded by a black iron fence and fronted by a small parking lot, it looks somewhat out of place in a residential neighborhood where brightly colored townhouses have sprouted like dandelions in recent years.

Even from the inside, you have to squint to imagine the transformation—from what Valley Cities Behavioral Health Care CEO Ken Taylor called a “ghastly” institution, run by Recovery Centers of King County, into a modern, brightly lit facility with fitness rooms, two large kitchens, and rooms for group meetings and private counseling.

The opening of the new facility, called Recovery Place, marks a significant milestone for detox and treatment in King County—the restoration of 32 beds for people needing medical detoxification from alcohol, heroin, and other drugs, and the first residential detox center in King County where people can access treatment for addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. (Most treatment centers do not deal with dual diagnoses).

The city’s Navigation Center, a new low-barrier shelter less than a mile away, will direct clients to Recovery Place, which will also take patients directly from emergency rooms and (eventually) on a walk-in basis. In addition to detox and a traditional two-to-four-week inpatient treatment program, the center will offer medication-assisted treatment with drugs like buprenorphine to heroin and opiate addicts. “We’re embracing a harm-reduction approach as much as an abstinence-based approach,” Milena Stott, Valley Cities’ director of inpatient services, said.

Valley Cities CEO Ken Taylor in the detox wing of Recovery Place

The last tenant to occupy the building, Recovery Centers of King County, went bankrupt and shut down abruptly in 2015, and since then, the 27 detox beds they provided have been distributed all over King County through contracts with institutions like Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland and the Seadrunar long-term treatment center in Georgetown.  Before RCKC closed down, Taylor said, the building “was dark and damp, and all throughout the central corridors there was plumbing and electrical running literally right down the middle of the corridor.” Outreach workers told me last year that RCKC was known for treating clients rudely and asking “inappropriate” personal questions in earshot of other patients; the new facility, in contrast, will have private consultation rooms. After RCKC closed, the building itself was taken over by squatters and stripped bare, with everything from the toilets to the copper wiring stolen and carted away.  Morgan Irwin, a Republican state representative (R-31) and Seattle Police Department officer who was on hand for yesterday’s tour, said that the last time he was inside the building, which is on his beat, “It was literally flashlight and gun out.”

The building cost $4 million to buy, plus $9 million to renovate. A million dollars of the budget to buy and fix up the building came from King County; the rest came from a combination of state and grant money and a $4.5 million loan that Valley Cities took out from Bank of America to cover the remaining costs. The state’s capital budget, which remains in limbo, is supposed to provide about $2 million toward the cost of repaying the loan, but Taylor said Valley Cities “is going to be able to repay the loan” ion its own if state funding doesn’t come through. “We’re very fortunate. Not every agency can do that.” Ongoing operations will cost about $5 million a year; that funding will come from the state and federal governments as well as from patients’ insurance payments. RCKC went bankrupt, King County Human Services Department director Adrienne Quinn told me, in part because of unfavorable state reimbursement rates, which she was quick to add have been addressed.

Contrary to common belief, not every person with addiction needs detox, although medication can ease the suffering and make it less likely that people withdrawing from opiates, for example, abandon treatment. (Severe alcoholism does require detox because going cold turkey can cause seizures, DTs, and fatal heart conditions.) Buprenorphine, and other opiate substitution medications, can help short-circuit the withdrawal process and get opiate addicts on a path to stability. “I hope that everyone for whom buprenorphine is appropriate will elect to do that,” Taylor said, “but sometimes it takes them time to get to that point.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Families of Opiate Epidemic Victims Reach Different Conclusions on Safe Consumption Sites

This story appeared in Seattle Magazine.

For months, there had been red flags. In the past, 19-year-old Amber Roberts had always made plans with her father, Michael Roberts, for his birthday. But this year, she canceled at the last minute without explanation.

A few weeks earlier, the former Lake Washington High School student had broken things off with her longtime boyfriend, who lived in Oregon, claiming he was “smothering” her. And friends who partied with her had noticed changes, too. Earlier that month, one of them had texted Amber’s mom telling her that Amber—the girl who still hated needles so much that she took her dad with her when she had to get a shot—had been doing heroin for the past several months. Alarmed, Amber’s mom contacted Roberts, and they made a plan to get their daughter into treatment as soon as Amber returned from Paradiso, a two-day music festival held every year at the Gorge.

But Amber had a friend drive her home from Paradiso early, complaining that she was sick. (Roberts believes she was in heroin withdrawal.) She left her mom’s house for a while, then came back and went upstairs, telling her mom and stepdad she was feeling fine. Roberts still remembers the last text he got from his daughter. “She texted me at around midnight to say she was fine,” he recalls. “And she probably died right after that.”

Heroin can kill slowly or quickly. Many people live through overdose after overdose—saved, in many cases, by the overdose reversal drug naloxone—and experience periods of recovery interspersed with periodic relapses. Others, like Amber, use the drug for just a short time—in Amber’s case, about four months—before taking a last, fatal dose. Sometimes, Roberts says, he feels lucky compared to parents who watch their kids struggle with addiction for years and years. Then he remembers his daughter’s loyalty, her “indescribable laugh” and her love for her family, and he says, “We would take that [struggle] over anything, because at least there would be a chance to save her.”

Since Amber’s death, Roberts, who lives in Kirkland, and Amber’s mother, Kristen Bretthauer, have started Amber’s HOPE (Heroin, Opiate Prevention and Education), a group that works to raise awareness of opiate addiction among teenagers. He’s also become an outspoken advocate for supervised consumption sites—places where users can inject or smoke their drug of choice under medical supervision, with access to wound care, detox and treatment referrals, and overdose reversal and prevention. The goal of supervised consumption isn’t to “cure” addicts. But, as Roberts says, it “can save people’s lives. That’s the bottom line for me. Once you’ve gone through what I went through, you will do anything for other parents not to have that experience.”

So far, there’s only one supervised injection site in North America: Insite, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has an average of 514 injection-room visits every day, according to program founder Liz Evans. (Insite’s facility only caters to injection drug users; most safe consumption sites also allow people to smoke drugs as well as inject them.) But the sites are common across Europe and they could soon be coming to King County. Last year, the 27-member King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, which includes political leaders, medical experts, drug-policy reform advocates and the mayors of several suburban cities, recommended that the county open two supervised consumption sites as a three-year pilot project, including one in Seattle.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray convened the task force last year in response to sharp increases in both opioid addiction and overdose deaths. In 2015, the last year for which finalized data is available, 132 people died of heroin overdoses in King County, up from 99 just two years earlier. Meanwhile, since 2015, heroin, rather than alcohol, is the primary reason people enter detox programs in King County. The recommendation for supervised consumption sites was just one of the task force’s eight proposals, which also included increased access to medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine, a drug that reduces opioid cravings; widespread distribution of naloxone, a nasal spray that can reverse overdoses; and increased spending on prevention programs. But of all the recommendations, safe consumption has been by far the most controversial.

Opponents, such as state Senator Mark Miloscia, who represents Federal Way, argue that safe consumption sites enable users and normalize drug use; he believes drug users need to “hit rock bottom, where they’re looking death in the eye…that’s how you change behavior.” Miloscia, a conservative Republican who has sponsored legislation that would ban safe consumption sites as well as a bill banning all homeless encampments in Seattle, argues that shame, not acceptance, is what keeps people from using drugs. Proponents counter that safe injection sites keep drug users alive—by offering medical care, teaching safer injection practices and monitoring users for overdoses—and provide them with tools and services that help them reintegrate into society, even if they aren’t ready to quit.

“These spaces are not just about drug use—they’re about really connecting folks to community and not just kicking them back out onto the street,” says Patricia Sully, an attorney with the Seattle Public Defender Association (PDA) and the coordinator for Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-WA). VOCAL-WA, which operates under the umbrella of the PDA, is a grassroots group of low-income people, drug users and community advocates who work to promote harm reduction. “Drug treatment itself might not be the only thing people need. Many people need connections to mental health services. Many, many people need connections to housing. And we know that all of those things really make a huge impact in someone’s quality of life,” Sully says.

Harley Lever is a neighborhood activist who ran for mayor in this year’s race and  founded the group Safe Seattle, which advocates against safe consumption sites. HeImage result for harley lever seattlesays the problem with that point of view is that the sites “could never scale to the enormity of the problem,” which is only growing as drugs like fentanyl make street heroin more unpredictable and lethal. “If you said, ‘What’s going to save more lives?’ I think the science will back me up and say widespread distribution of naloxone is going to save far more lives” than safe consumption sites, Lever says.

Safe Seattle advocates for naloxone distribution, but their main contribution to the debate over safe consumption sites has been advocating Initiative 27, which would ban safe consumption sites throughout King County. Editor’s note: Opponents of the initiative won a court ruling that could keep the initiative off the ballot, but proponents are expected to file an appeal. In the meantime, the King County Council has passed an alternative ballot measure to replace I-27 if proponents win on appeal; that measure would ask voters whether they support voting on supervised consumption sites at all, and, if they say yes, whether they support or oppose the sites.

Lever, like Roberts, came by his views on addiction the hard way. Two of his brothers, along with countless friends and relatives back in his hometown of Boston, have been addicted to heroin, and several have wound up in jail or died. One of Lever’s brothers has been clean for years; the other, an Army veteran who has spent years in and out of Veterans Administration (VA) rehabs, is now homeless and living, Lever says, on “borrowed time.”

“[My brother] has OD’ed four times in the last year, and every time he was saved by naloxone,” Lever says. “He’s been in this constant cycle of being in treatment, getting sober, living in sober housing—and then, almost every single time, right when he gets his check [from the VA], he goes and spends it and he’s back in that cycle.”

Although one of his brothers quit “cold turkey” and “turned his life around,” Lever has slim hopes for his homeless sibling. “We’ve tried everything. It’s been 15 years, and he’s been so lucky to survive, but we know one day we’ll get the call,” he says. The VA has provided Lever’s brother with a place to stabilize himself and access health care and treatment, and it has probably helped him stay alive this long. But it hasn’t gotten him sober.

While one argument against safe consumption sites is that anything that allows addicts to continue using is the wrong solution to the opioid crisis, there are other objections.

Some who are opposed to safe consumption sites say the sites will bring crime and addiction to neighborhoods where drugs and crime were not previously a problem, or worry that the sites simply enable addicts to “slowly kill themselves by taking drugs and harming their bodies,” as Republican King County Council member Kathy Lambert, who represents Sammamish, Redmond and Issaquah, said back in June.

But the Vancouver Insite experience has proven otherwise. Insite founder Evans says the amount of street disorder around the facility has declined significantly since it opened in 2003, and that Insite staffers have reversed more than 6,000 overdoses; in 14 years, not one person has died at the site. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where Insite is located, is a rough-edged but gentrifying neighborhood near the city’s Chinatown that has been plagued by drugs and crime for decades. Seattle has no real equivalent, since drug use here is more widely distributed throughout the city, which is one reason advocates here have argued for more than one safe consumption site.

That information, however, doesn’t sway opponents like Lever.

“The compassionate side of me says we shouldn’t be [pushing I-27], but the strategic side of me says we should, because we should be focusing on better solutions than safe injection sites.”

Ultimately, the initiative may be unnecessary. In June, a majority of the King County Council voted to prohibit funding in the amended 2017–2018 budget for supervised drug consumption sites except in cities that explicitly approve them, and to bar county funding for any site outside Seattle. The vote effectively means that a safe consumption site couldn’t open until 2019 at the earliest, because the only potential funding source for a site in Seattle, the countywide Mental Illness and Drug Dependency tax, is already spoken for.

Officials in Seattle have not identified a specific site, but City Council and County Council members who represent the city, such as King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles of District 4 (which includes Ballard, Fremont, Crown Hill and Wallingford), have said it will not be in any neighborhood that doesn’t want it, making Capitol Hill a more likely location than, say, Magnolia.

Dave Upthegrove, a Democratic County Council member who represents Burien and other South King County suburbs, says that while there is a lot of misinformation about the risk of safe consumption sites, “people’s emotions are real, and we need to be respectful of people’s fears.” He adds, “Even folks who have experienced heroin addiction in their own families are divided.” He fully supports the sites, however, and supports Seattle becoming the first city in the region to have them.

Roberts, who has been open about his own struggles with addiction, believes that the fears people have about drug users can only be addressed by destigmatizing addiction; more people also need to understand that even “good people” can get swept up by addiction. “There tends to be an attitude of ‘My child would never do that’; I really want to sway that view,” he says. “In one year, there were at least three overdoses at Amber’s high school. There’s just not enough awareness of the problem.”

With the dramatic increase of overdose deaths, he says, “there’s not going to be anyone around to deal with it anymore.”

Although Roberts and Lever—both King County residents whose families have been devastated by the impact of heroin addiction—have reached vastly different conclusions about how to solve the problem, they agree on this point.

“What I fear most is we’re going to die our way out of this epidemic,” Lever says.

The Europe Experience

Safe consumption sites are still rare in the United States, but they have a long history in Europe, where the first supervised injection site opened in Bern, Switzerland, in 1986. Since then, more than 75 such sites have opened across the continent: in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Greece and France.

Although the services offered by safe consumption sites vary slightly from country to country (some are strictly safe injection sites; others provide medically assisted treatment right on site), the basics are the same: They include a safe space to consume illegal drugs indoors and under medical supervision, clean needles, basic medical care, and connections to addiction treatment and other health and social services.

Numerous studies across Europe have concluded that safe consumption/injection sites not only reduce risky behavior, such as sharing needles, but lower the number of overdose deaths in cities. Safe consumption sites also have been found to reduce the number of violent, property and nuisance crimes associated with street drug use, and increase the number of people who get into treatment—a result that holds true in North America, too, where more than 60 peer-reviewed studies have concluded that Insite, the safe consumption site in Vancouver, British Columbia, has increased the number of people seeking treatment without increasing crime.

As King County Grapples With Heroin, Another Lethal Drug is on the Rise

Image Credit: SBSArtDept

This story originally appeared at Seattle Magazine.

As political leaders focus their attention on the ongoing epidemic of heroin and prescription opiate addiction—an epidemic that claimed 132 lives in King County in 2015, the last year for which statistics are available—another drug crisis may be developing right under their noses.

Since 2010, according to data just released by the University of Washington, the number of deaths related to methamphetamine has risen steadily throughout Washington State—from 1.8 deaths per 100,000 state residents in 2010 to 4.9 per 100,000 in 2015. In King County, the number of meth-related overdoses increased by 257 percent between 2003 and 2015. Dr. Michael Sayre, the medical director for the Seattle Fire Department and a Harborview-affiliated emergency medicine doctor, calls the uptick in meth ODs “the most significant trend in drug-related mortality” in the region.

Caleb Banta-Green, a researcher with the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute and a member of the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, says one reason for the uptick in meth use is the fact that “cocaine availability has tanked in the last five years.” Meanwhile, meth has become more potent and readily available than ever before. People appear to be using meth as a cocaine substitute, even though, according to Banta-Green, the two drugs are quite different—cocaine is shorter-lived and less intense than meth, which can provide 20 times the dopamine hit and last many hours longer.

“You don’t hear a lot of people saying, ‘I use cocaine because it helps me stay at my job longer.’ You do hear people say that about methamphetamine,” Banta-Green says.

So why haven’t you read about this emerging epidemic? One of the reasons may be simply that, unlike for opiates, there aren’t any particularly effective medical interventions for meth overdoses or addiction. When someone overdoses on heroin, for example, emergency responders, or even a lay person with the right equipment, can quickly reverse the overdose by giving the victim a shot of Narcan, a drug that restores heart function and breathing. There is no similar drug for meth ODs, which overload the cardiovascular system with adrenalin and can lead to heart failure, stroke, seizures and hyperthermia (overheating). A stimulant overdose “definitely requires medical attention,” Sayre says. “It’s not something that a layperson or even a medically trained person without the proper resources can appropriately manage.”

 

So why haven’t you read about this emerging epidemic? One of the reasons may be simply that, unlike for opiates, there aren’t any particularly effective medical interventions for meth overdoses or addiction.

 

Methamphetamine addicts seeking treatment face a similar dearth of medical (as opposed to behavioral) treatment options as those with other addictions. While heroin addicts have the option of medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone), two prescription opiates that serve as replacements for more harmful drugs like heroin, there is still no medication-assisted treatment for stimulants like meth. Drug replacement therapy with other stimulants like Adderal (a drug that’s very closely related to meth) doesn’t appear to work and can be dangerous to users who already have high blood pressure and enlarged hearts; and although two antidepressants, buproprion (Wellbutrin) and mirtazapine (Remeron) have shown some promise in reducing meth use in chronic users, neither has been widely tested or shown impressive results.

“I’m not very optimistic that we’re going to get a good medication any time soon,” says Dr. Andy Saxon, who directs the Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education at the Veterans Administration in Seattle.

Instead, Saxon says that the best treatment he’s found for meth addiction is a behavioral approach called contingency management, where users are given rewards with some monetary value if they stop or reduce their use. The VA, for example, uses what Saxon calls the “fishbowl technique.” Veterans who pass a drug test get to pull a card from a fishbowl (or more than one card if they’ve passed several tests in a row); the reward on the card could be anything from verbal reinforcement (“Nice work”) to a $100 gift card for the VA store. The idea is to replace the hit of dopamine produced when a user takes a drink or a hit with a monetary reward, since both rewards act on the same pleasure center in the brain. Other moderately effective treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention, and motivational interviewing, all mainstays of traditional treatment programs.

None of those treatments is particularly effective (according to Saxon, about half the people who are in the VA’s behavioral treatment programs manage to reduce their use), and all are significantly more expensive than medication-assisted treatment for opiates, which may consist of nothing more than a prescription for a replacement drug. Nor is it easy to reach meth addicts, particularly those who are homeless or living in marginal housing; unless they are injection users or use other injection drugs like heroin, meth users aren’t coming in to needle exchanges, and they typically leave emergency rooms with little more than a recommendation to seek further treatment and a “good luck.”

Sayre suggests a few solutions that could help meth users in the immediate and long term. First, he says, the state needs to do everything it can to ensure that users in crisis feel safe seeking help. Existing “Good Samaritan” laws, which shield people seeking medical help for an overdose from prosecution, should be expanded to cover people who are on parole, on probation, or who have outstanding warrants. Second, existing outreach programs, such as needle exchanges, should provide incentives for meth users to come in and access their services, such as providing new, unbroken meth pipes. (The People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, which runs a needle exchange in the University District, already does this.) And third, “maybe we need to think more seriously about offering safe spaces and more help for people who are tweaking”— overstimulated on meth—where they can get access to treatment and other services.

As it happens, the county has already proposed creating such a space. It’s called a community health engagement location (colloquially known as a safe consumption site). But it’s generated significant controversy, and is currently the subject of an initiative designed to ban all such facilities across the county.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Candidate Scott Lindsay

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Scott Lindsay, the onetime public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who is challenging City Attorney Pete Holmes, was in the news a few weeks ago for leaking draft legislation that would offer limited amnesty from fines and impoundment to people living in cars and RVs and create dozens of small safe lots for people to park their vehicles around the city. Lindsay released an early version of the bill, sponsored by city council member Mike O’Brien, last month, forcing O’Brien to quickly amend and release the proposal and to hold a hasty press conference to walk back some of the more controversial elements of the draft Lindsay leaked. Lindsay’s reputation as the guy who defended Murray’s encampment sweeps, and his efforts to kill legislation reviled by neighborhood activists, like O’Brien’s RV bill, helped earn him the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which effused about his “tougher,” “stronger,” more “aggressive” approach to homelessness and drug addiction. But Lindsay has also won endorsements from onetime Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year.

I sat down with Lindsay at Cupcake Royale in Madrona.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: When we set up this interview, you said you could make a strong case that people who lean further left should vote for you. From what I’ve seen so far, most of your support has been coming from the right, from places like the Seattle Times editorial board and neighborhood groups like Safe Seattle. If you’re the candidate for the left, why are those groups so convinced that you’re their guy?

Scott Lindsay [SL]: I have no idea what their impressions are. I’ve clashed in very public ways with them. What makes me different, and maybe what they might find attractive, is, I’m willing to go talk to them, and I’m actively trying to convince them that fighting supervised [drug] consumption [sites] is maybe not the smartest use of their resources. The thing that also may differentiate me is that I do think we have some public safety issues in the city of Seattle, and I’m willing to acknowledge that. I think  we’ve heard a lot of talk about a progressive approach to public safety. We have not seen action and we have definitely not seen results, and I’m a guy who is going to not only say it but do it.

ECB: What are some of the places where we haven’t seen results?

SL: Holmes, and in fact all of the Seattle political establishment, talks as if we have implemented significant criminal justice reforms in Seattle when we’ve not. We’ve not. The [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has been in existence for five and a half years, and it’s barely grown outside of downtown into Capitol Hill. [Eligibility for LEAD] has not yet expanded out of the narrow classification of [criminal] charges that we started with. That program is touching just some tiny portion of the population that actually needs it. Holmes says that the cosponsored LEAD, but I haven’t seen any evidence of his engagement over the last three years. We’re not delivering on that program. We’re not delivering on  criminal justice reform within the court  system. And so the result is, people are cycling through the system repeatedly, and reoffending to a significant degree.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway.

What I told the Seattle Times is, I laid out a specific plan and I said we need to address the intersection of criminally involved individuals who are suffering from addiction and suffering from homelessness. And I brought to them specific data about how that population makes up the bulk of people currently being prosecuted by the city attorney and how we’re getting very crappy results in terms of trying to change the behavior of that population.

ECB: Do you believe that the population of homeless people with addiction is primarily responsible for crimes like car prowls and break-ins?

SL: Absolutely.

ECB: What makes you so confident?

SL: Because that’s what our data tells us, and that’s what our police tell us, and that’s what our courts tell us. Go to SPD and they will say that virtually 100 percent of the car prowls in the North Precinct are committed by people whose underlying issue is addiction, principally heroin and methamphetamine.

ECB: I find addiction as a contributing factor easy to believe. What I don’t know, and what I’m asking, is how many of the people committing property crimes are homeless. I have heard many people in the neighborhoods express the opinion that by cracking down on homeless people, the city will solve the problem of property times, and I’m wondering if you think that’s true.

SL: I am the first to say that we are not talking about all homeless. The county has done good work on this. What we know is, it’s people with addiction and who are unsheltered who are currently going through  the system. That does not mean that the vast bulk of homeless individuals are criminally involved or that they’re struggling with addiction, but the folks who are in the  criminal justice  system are very substantially homeless and suffering from addiction.

This is our status quo—the streets-to-jail cycle—right now. We’ve got a lot of folks who are coming out of the criminal justice system right back onto the streets, right back into homelessness, right back into drug addiction. So we have to go and do proactive outreach to folks where they are. The Navigation Team is a form of proactive outreach that’s trying to find low-barrier housing and services for folks to get them out of the cycle before they enter into  criminal justice  system.

The second [intervention] is diversion after arrest. That means expanding LEAD citywide and expanding the total number of qualifying crimes for LEAD. If somebody’s committing a car prowl right now, and they are arrested right here, and their underlying issue is addiction and homelessness, that would be a perfect client for LEAD. And yet because we’re outside of the geographic boundary [of LEAD] and car prowl is not a qualifying crime, they are not eligible to be diverted. Then, if we arrest somebody whose underlying issue is addiction and homelessness [and the case goes to court], we should tie that judge into the Navigation Team, into LEAD, and have, in effect, a street court that is oriented around a harm reduction approach.

And then, in jail, we have to have treatment options. The second somebody on a Seattle Municipal Court charge is booked into a jail and if they [have heroin] addiction,  we need to be offering them counseling and, if not methadone treatment, which can be more involved, then at the very least suboxone.

And finally, we need to have a serious warm handoff. Instead of pushing folks [leaving jail] out onto the street who we know came in homeless, came in with addiction, let’s crate warm handoffs, all tied into the Navigation Center and the Navigation Team.

ECB: So is idea they would exit jail and go straight into the Navigation Center?

SL: I think so, yes—or in a setting similar to the Navigation Center facility.

ECB: It seems like that would require a scaling up of our shelter facilities that isn’t anticipated in the Pathways Home plan (which proposes a shift from shelter to permanent housing) or in the city budget.

SL: This is a four-year plan, but absolutely, if we’re going to be serious about these things, we need to have a vision, have an architecture, and then fund these things appropriately.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway. And so the question is, can we do something to reduce the impact of that? We already have a lot of transitional and halfway housing around Seattle. We’ve been able to manage this in the past. The Navigation Center is a temporary way station on the way toward, hopefully, more permanent options.

ECB: Would you have released the draft [of Mike O’Brien’s RV legislation] if you were city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city.

ECB: Why did you leak O’Brien’s RV legislation—or do you dispute the term ‘leak’?

SL: I dispute the term ‘leak.’

ECB: Okay, how come?

SL: So O’Brien had created his [vehicular living task force]. They’d made their recommendations in April. He then worked up the legislation and his office spread it to a lot of stakeholders. They briefed it to some other council members. They briefed it to city departments. And it spread to series of stakeholders. His office then put out an email out 15 to 20 stakeholders that they were introducing that version of the legislation imminently and it was in the law department for a final review—with minor revisions, but they made clear that it was final. That version of the legislation was in the hands of 50 to 100 people. It was not closely held. In that email, they said, we are introducing it imminently and we’re going to have two hearings on it his month and vote it out of committee right after Labor Day. It was a very truncated legislative process right in the middle of August, when a lot of people aren’t paying attention. That had me very concerned, because I thought the legislation was deeply flawed in a legal sense and a policy sense, and that O’Brien was going to try to shove it through at the wrong time. I wasn’t going to do anything with it until his office said they were introducing it imminently. Once they said they were doing that and on such a truncated timeline, I made it public.

ECB: Would you have released the draft if you were city attorney, rather than a candidate for city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city. I have very specific experience with this. I was the guy who created the RV safe lots [a safe RV parking program that the city abandoned after deciding it cost too much.] I tried to make those work. I saw what the challenges were. So I have experience. I’ve also seen how Mike O’Brien’s program, Road to Housing, which we spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars on, was a serious flop. [Road to Housing was a program that encouraged churches to allow people living in vehicles to park in their lots. Ultimately, it only created a dozen safe parking spots]. So I’m not coming at this as, ‘Oh, I got a special document and I’m just going to throw it out there.’

“They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.'”

ECB: Why did you think O’Brien’s plan wouldn’t work? What was the issue?

SL: I think the blanket amnesty [from fines and towing] is just a very legally problematic policy. The thought that we could create 50-some safe lots is unfortunate—it’s counterproductive because we already have experience with this. At the end of the day, what we found was that trying to serve people in their vehicles and to help them stay in their vehicles is the most expensive way to try to service this population.

ECB: So what is a more effective and affordable solution?

SL: I think we need to vastly ramp up the outreach, and outreach to somewhere. Just going and sending an outreach worker alone and cold to a situating and saying, ‘Hey, would you like services?’—the answer is almost always ‘No, thank you.’ Having a police officer try to resolve the legal issues and the social and health issues at the same time is a more effective model.

ECB: You said that ‘blanket amnesty’ isn’t workable from a legal perspective. It seems to me that from a ‘managing homelessness’ perspective, towing people’s vehicles away isn’t working either, since they go from being homeless people in cars to being homeless people in tents and doorways.

SL: There’s a way to do this with appropriate controls and forgiveness, where we say, if your vehicle’s broken down and you received tickets and all you need is $250 for a new starter, we’re going to forgive the tickets and we’ll help you with the starter, but you have to get your vehicles back into basic legal compliance. We absolutely should not be towing somebody’s vehicle away if it’s just a matter of some basic economics. At the same time, to say that there’s blanket amnesty if you’re living in a vehicle creates a whole host of significant issues.

Go under Spokane Street. We had massive fire hazards. We had major public health problems. We had widespread exploitation of women. We had serious drug dealing and other issues. And we had a homicide just three weeks ago. How is the city going to manage the impacts of significant accumulations of vehicles in one location if there’s a blanket amnesty?

ECB: Let’s shift gears and talk about domestic violence. You accuse Pete of declining to file more DV cases than any city attorney in recent history. His counter is that he’s been boosting more DV cases to felony status, which goes through the county court system, and that the number of DV cases that come before the city attorney are cyclical. How do you respond?

SL: The decline rate, at which they refuse to file cases up front, is 65 percent. That is the highest that it’s been in Seattle’s history. In 2009, it was under 50 percent. So, per the city attorney’s own stats, they are declining to file more cases than they ever have in the history of Seattle. [Ed: The city attorney can decline to file a domestic case for prosecution for many reasons, including a victim who is unwilling to testify, incomplete or unclear paperwork, or an accuser who decides it’s safer not to press charges; charges that are boosted to felonies also show up as declines].

One of the major problems is that Pete Holmes has been shuffling and reshuffling the criminal division and moving people around. They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.’ It used to be the case that when there was some missing information, the investigators would complete that—no problem, it’s a little Google search, boom, complete. Now the city attorney’s office says, ‘Okay, SPD, this case isn’t ready to file,’ and they send it back to the officer who’s out on the street. And that officer may be on vacation, or maybe he has a really full workload. Maybe it gets pushed to the back of pile, and they maybe complete it a week, two weeks later. The case gets more and more stale.

Domestic violence cases are hard, but they haven’t fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, and Holmes has a burden to explain why, if you are an abuse survivor in the city of Seattle, the prospect of you making it through  this process and holding your abuser accountable is slim to none. He says it’s a priority. Those numbers don’t show that. Those numbers show that, in fact, we are badly failing survivors.

Read my pre-primary interview with Lindsay, where we discussed even more issues, including the role of the Community Police Commission in police reform, here; and check out both my recent conversations with City Attorney Pete Holmes here.

Michael Roberts: I Support Safe Consumption Because I Don’t Want Other Families to Lose Their Children

This is part 3 in a series of interviews with advocates on both sides of the safe-consumption issue.

Earlier this week, a coalition of public health experts and people who have lost loved ones to overdoses announced that they are suing to block Initiative 27, which would ban supervised drug consumption sites throughout King County, on the grounds that public health decisions are outside the scope of the initiative process. The group, called Protect Public Health, argues in their lawsuit that under state law, King County and its public health department are responsible for making public-health policy decisions for the county, and “[i]t would be antithetical to this scheme to allow citizens to delay or override urgent action on a public health crisis merely by raising sufficient funds to qualify a referendum or initiative.” (You can read the full complaint here.)

Last week, the King County Elections Department confirmed that initiative supporters had collected enough signatures to qualify for the February 2018 ballot.

With safe consumption very much in the news this week, I thought it would be a good time to hear from some advocates on both sides of the safe consumption issue.

This final installment features Michael Roberts, the cofounder of Amber’s HOPE, an addiction awareness and prevention organization named after his daughter, Amber Roberts, who died of a heroin overdose at just 19. Since his daughter’s death, Roberts, who is in recovery himself, has worked to raise awareness of the opiate epidemic and promote substance use disorder prevention. Roberts says he supports safe consumption sites not only because they save lives, but because they provide connections to nonjudgmental treatment and help for people who may be filled with shame and self-loathing because of their substance use. I talked to Roberts by phone last month, just after the second anniversary of his daughter’s death.

Here’s Roberts:

My daughter Amber passed away two years ago. She was 19 and she was at her mom’s house, in her bedroom, and her mom found her in the morning.

When you overdose from heroin, what a lot of people don’t know is you don’t really overdose on one drug. We got the tox reports and there was alcohol and ecstasy along with opiates. But heroin is the one that puts you to sleep.

“This was the girl who I still had to take to the doctor to get shots because she hated needles so much.”

We knew for sure she was doing heroin two weeks before she passed. My birthday’s in June, and she always made time to spend the day with me or do something with me. And when she changed plans at the last minute, to me, that was a red flag. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend, who was one of her best friends since the 7th grade, and I asked her why. She said he was too smothering. Well, he goes to college in Oregon. He plays football. He’s not around. So that was another red flag.

She started smoking pot around junior high, and doing ecstasy and drinking. I knew there was a trend there, so I always kept an eye on it. We always had what we thought was an open communication about drugs and alcohol. I was planning on getting her into detox and into rehab. I’ve been to rehab three times myself, and I’ve always been an advocate for recovery.

The first time I went was in 2000, and it was about 50-50 opiate-related and alcohol-related. Then I went in 2009 and it was like 70 opiate-related and alcohol was the minority. And talking to all these kids that were like a bunch of sports players that got injured—the next thing you know, they’re shooting heroin.

She loved to go to EDM shows and raves. And so she went to Vegas with all of her friends the weekend she passed, and I was planning on taking her to rehab when she got back from Vegas. By now, we knew she was doing heroin. One of her friends finally messaged her mom and said Amber told them. This was the girl who I still had to take to the doctor to get shots because she hated needles so much. So she goes to Paradiso on Friday, and by Saturday she’s calling her mom asking her to come pick her up at the Gorge because she was sick and wanted to come home.

“Sometimes we feel lucky compared to all these other parents who were just going through the struggle of addiction for years and years and years. But we would take that over anything. At least there’s a chance to save them.”

She texted me at midnight that night from her mom’s house to tell me she was fine, and probably died right after.

We found out after she passed that she first tried heroin in February of that year and she died five months later. Sometimes we feel lucky compared to all these other parents who were just going through the struggle of addiction for years and years and years. But we would take that over anything. At least there’s a chance to save them.

Amber was the most loyal person you could ever want as a friend. One of her friends told a story about her. It was like 3 in the morning and she had had a bad day. Amber lives up in Snoqualmie and this girl lives in Lynnwood, and Amber left and got her some candy and took it to her at 4 in the morning. Her laugh was indescribable. She had a great work ethic. She loved her family, her brothers. It was just one of those drugs we never thought that she would do.

When she died—she’s my only child, and now it’s just me. So it’s one of those questions: Either I’m going to go join her now or I have to find something to fight for, just because I don’t want any other parents to feel like this. My getting involved was a way to still work with her, I guess, or keep her name alive so I don’t go crazy. Her mom and I started a heroin and opiate prevention organization called Amber’s HOPE. The premise is to speak to communities and families and just bring awareness to the fact that it’s happening. I lived in Kirkland for all of Amber’s school year, and there were at least three overdoses at her high school in one year. Growing up on the Eastside—I grew up in Issaquah—there tends to be an attitude of,  ‘Not my child’ or ‘My child would never do that.’ I really wanted to sway that view. It takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of bullshit involved in it. I tried to deal with Lake Washington [High School] and it’s like pulling teeth.

You can’t do anything until you break that stigma down. Just look at what the King County Council did with safe consumption sites. [In July, the council barred funding for safe consumption sites through the county’s general fund and prohibited funding the sites through the county’s mental illness and drug dependency tax except in cities that explicitly vote to allow them.] They got scared shitless. They just decided, ‘We’re not going to fund anything.’

Growing up on the Eastside—I grew up in Issaquah—there tends to be an attitude of,  ‘Not my child’ or ‘My child would never do that.’ I really wanted to sway that view.”

If I had the money, I would build [a safe consumption site]. It builds connections. For me, being in my community and a recovering addict. that was the biggest hurdle. You already feel like complete shit. You have no self-worth. Maybe you’ve grown up with your family calling people drunks or junkies and saying, ‘Get a job,’ being judgmental. So are you going to go to your parents or family and go, ‘I need help?’ [A safe consumption site] builds connections and it saves people’s lives. That’s the bottom line for me. Once you’ve gone through what I went through, you will do anything for someone not to go through that.

When I speak at communities around Seattle, this is the idea that scares people. They think it’s going to cause crime. But that crime is already there.

I don’t think you’re going to be able to change people’s minds who think like that. They’re set. Unless something personal happens to that person, they’re not going to change their minds. So I try and be really nonjudgmental towards those people. All I can do is tell my story and explain why I believe what I do, and if they listen, they listen, and if they don’t, they don’t. Once you get into an argument or debate, you lose all credibility, because you’re just not going to win. You just have to go, ‘Okay, imagine if that was your child? How would you feel? How would you deal with this?’  My argument to them is, it could save someone’s life. I mean really, that’s what they do.

Today, just reading the numbers coming out about overdose deaths, we’re looking at 60,000 to 70,000 for this year. It’s not going away, and there’s a lot more even in the last two years. There’s a lot more talk about it, too. It seems like now that taboo  is breaking down more and more. Two years ago. the news barely even spoke of [the opiate addiction epidemic]. Now it’s almost a daily segment, even on the local news.

This is all I work on now. It’ll be 2 in the morning and I’ll go, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ because whenever I talk about Amber, there I am reliving it again. But I don’t mind it if it helps somebody else not have to go through what we went through.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Pete Holmes

Pete in front of City Hall

Image via holmesforseattle.com.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including this series of interviews with the candidates for mayor, city attorney, and (later this summer) city council and Port, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

City attorney Pete Holmes was first elected in 2009 as a reformer. A bankruptcy attorney who advocated for marijuana legalization and was one of the original members of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB), the body that reviewed disciplinary decisions in police misconduct cases, he challenged then-incumbent Tom Carr from the left, assailing Carr for cracking down on minor crimes like pot possession and waging war against bars and clubs while letting DUI and domestic violence cases molder. Now, Holmes’ challenger, Scott Lindsay, is ripping some pages from the city attorney’s own playbook, accusing him of going soft on police accountability, ignoring the consequences of the opiate epidemic, and ignoring problems in homeless encampments. I sat down with Holmes to discuss his record, his path to reelection, and the case his opponent laid out against him at a Starbucks across the street from City Hall.

Erica C. Barnett [ECB]: Your opponent, Scott Lindsay, got in the race late, and only after his boss, Mayor Ed Murray, was accused of sexual abuse. Were you surprised that he decided to run against you, and how do you respond to his statement that you have little to show for your two terms in office?

Pete Holmes [PH]: [When I ran], I was at that point in my legal career that I finally felt that I just maybe had enough experience in the law to be the city’s lawyer. Back in ’09, when I ran, I had made partner at a major downtown firm; I knew my way in and out of court; I advised big and little clients businesses and individuals; and I really had a sense of what the law was about. All of that readied me for the challenges that lay ahead at the city of Seattle.

“I think Scott wants a job, and I would just urge him not to give up on that ambition, but learn what it’s like to be a lawyer first.”

A candidate for office told me recently that from their perspective, I was a candidate that ran for a specific office with a specific mission and that was absolutely right. It was no surprise to [then-city attorney] Tom [Carr] that I was going to run against him. I had spent the previous three or four years at that point debating with him, trying to get him to do the right thing on transparency and police accountability, trying to work with him, and finally realizing that, you know what, I can’t complain. I need to step up and say, ‘Here’s my vision, and it’s different from yours.’  We had big difference of opinion on police reform, drug policy, things like that, and it was only at that point in my career that I felt like, I know what the practice of law is all about, I feel secure in the knowledge that I’ve learned my craft, and maybe, just maybe, I could presume to be the city’s attorney.

I think Scott wants a job, and I would just urge him not to give up on that ambition, but learn what it’s like to be a lawyer first.

ECB: Lindsay received some surprising early endorsements from two members of the Community Police Commission who had been your allies, Lisa Daugaard and Harriett Walden, who both argued that you had hindered the group’s efforts to increase civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department. Daugaard criticized you, specifically, for opposing the CPC’s request that it be allowed to refer complaints directly to the city’s Inspector General for investigation, and for your request to delay submitting police reform legislation to the council. Without getting too far in the weeds, what was your issue with the way that the CPC wanted to implement civilian oversight, and why did you seek to start the process over?

PH: The sheer size and scope of the CPC is, I think, the biggest concern. A budget that’s probably close to $2 million annually is something I’m not sure the city can afford. But the really fundamental question I have is, why we have allowed ourselves to forget the fundamental purpose of civilian oversight? It’s to hear what the community thinks about policing services as delivered where they live. I think Lisa would say her theory is that the CPC should be a commission of subject-matter experts—her, term not mine—and my counter to that is, I want all of my expertise, my academic and practical expertise, to be in my command staff and especially my chief of police and my professional overseers, like the [Office of Police Accountability, formerly the Office of Professional Accountability] director, who’s investigating individual misconduct cases, and the inspector general, who’s looking more broadly at policy.

“We’ve had all of these reform efforts that end up with a blue ribbon panel pontificating about the need to get community involvement and things are smoothed over for a little while. So the fact that we’re under federal oversight is our best opportunity and maybe our last opportunity.”

So what role does the CPC serve? It’s to say how well all this expertise is translating into the streets. Is the chief managing appropriately? Is the inspector general managing broad policy themes that need attention? Is the OPA director holding people accountable for the thoroughness of investigations? At the end of the day, we need to know how the guys who have a gun and a badge are interacting with our fellow residents here in the city, and if you’ve got a committee of subject matter experts that are studying established practices and doing all those kinds of things things that I hope the IG and the OPA director and the chief of police are doing, then who’s taking the time to listen to the community?

There’s one person that you ultimately hold accountable for holding your cops accountable, among many safeguards, and that’s your chief of police. So number one, if you have taken all of these policy areas away from the chief, then the chief will say, ‘You know what, I’m sorry that our department is not delivering services to, say, an African-American community the way you think they should, but you took all that power from me and you gave it to this commission of subject matter experts.’ And it’s already difficult enough under our current contracts for discipline to stick. All of the major discipline decisions, all the firings [Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole] has done, with very few exceptions, have been contested, and my office has to defend all those things. So what I worry about is not only would your existing chief finally say, ‘You know, look, I give up,’ but when you have to replace Chief O’Toole, who’s going to come to a city that is so heavily laden with politics and procedure? It’s like, ‘Can I run my department, please?’ It might scare away a good candidate.

ECB: Do you expect that the ongoing effort to comply with the federal consent decree that’s currently still in place at SPD will remain on track, given that Attorney General Sessions has suggested that he wants to pull back on police reform?

PH: What we have to remember is that we would not have made the progress we’ve made to date, including the CPC, but for the federal intervention. We’ve tried over the decades to do reform and have only gotten a little bit of window dressing, and then it goes away. The unions retain their power through a collective bargaining agreement and mayors routinely get worn out and say, ‘Oh, God, please just get it done so I can move on to the next thing,’ and we’ve all inherited decades of that. We’ve had all of these reform efforts that end up with a blue ribbon panel pontificating about the need to get community involvement and things are smoothed over for a little while. So the fact that we’re under federal oversight is our best opportunity and maybe our last opportunity.

Fortunately, we’ve got that so-called judge [federal judge James Robart, whom Trump called a “so-called judge” when he refused to enforce the original travel ban]. I really think Judge Robart is nothing but a no-nonsense judge and he is not going to say his order has been met fulfilled until he believes the order has been fulfilled. Jeff Sessions is not going to tell him when it’s been fulfilled, and for that matter, no one of us city officials is going to do that. I do think that at some point, I’d like to see the unions in front of Judge Robart bringing forth all their concerns so that we can really have comprehensive contract-based reform.

And by the way, it’s not about the size and scope of the CPC that I first broke with Lisa [Daugaard]. They lobbied hard to make me appeal Judge Robart’s decision  [delaying the city’s police reform legislation in 2016] and make them a party to the lawsuit and at some point I just said no.

“At some point, the city has got to be able to negotiate its contracts. It’s got to be able to hire and fire officers. It’s got to be able to appoint chiefs. The [CPC’s] approach is going  to actually confound the ultimate goal of having a well-disciplined, well-trained, and community-respected police force.”

If [the CPC is] telling the council that Judge Robart is stopping [them] from doing [their] work and that the city attorney is letting him get away with it, it’s really hard to go back to the council and explain that we would not be where we are but for Judge Robart and this consent decree. It’s the same pitch that I couldn’t get [former mayor] Mike McGinn to fully appreciate. I remember telling him, ‘Mike, no one’s going to blame you for the police department you inherited, and nobody’s going to forgive you if you let this opportunity go away. So you can either treat DOJ as an invading force or the wind in your sails for reform.’ And we never quite got on the same page, but it’s kind of the same theme that was playing this time around, with the CPC wanting to be permanent, full-throated advocates in front of the judge. At some point, the city has got to be able to negotiate its contracts. It’s got to be able to hire and fire officers. It’s got to be able to appoint chiefs. The [CPC’s] approach is going  to actually confound the ultimate goal of having a well-disciplined, well-trained, and community-respected police force. That’s my concern, and you can’t explain that in a sound bite.

ECB: It seems to me that there’s a fair amount of bad blood between you and Lisa Daugaard.

PH: It’s not bad blood. I believe she sincerely believes in what she’s doing, but she cannot be chief of police and Inspector General and OPA director all in one fell swoop, and you can’t make the Community Police Commission into those bodies. I think fundamentally, who represents the community is really the question. Just because the Community Police Commission has ‘community’ in its name doesn’t mean they own the community.

“When you get to the point where you’ve exhausted a housing-first services approach and you’ve still got someone who says, ‘I like being here stealing bicycles or dealing drugs’ or whatever, then you’ve reached a point where you say that’s not an option. You’re going to be arrested and Pete’s going to prosecute you.”

ECB: Will you extend the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program [which gives low-level offenders the opportunity to avoid charges if they accept services and participate in a structured diversion program] to the rest of the city, and is there anything you would like to change or improve about the program?

PH: Intuitively, I am convinced that LEAD is a correct approach. A correct approach—not the correct approach. Because LEAD addresses one small element of the overall population that we need to address. The danger with elevating something like LEAD as the answer, the silver bullet, is that if you’re looking a 360 degree [range of offenders and solutions], LEAD represents only about ten degrees of that arc.

You remember in 2013, when I got that letter from SPD about 28 or so of the so-called hardcore offenders downtown, and they demanded I issue warrants for all of them? I said, ‘No, because you did none of the background work to tell me what their issue is. You can’t just tell me you issued three tickets to them and they didn’t respond. I want to know, are they homeless? Are they drug addicted? What have you done to address their issues?’ And if you’ve done all of that and they’re resisting, they’re just simply refusing our offer, then you’re right. Then we’ll intervene. But you’ve got to show that it’s a credible threat.

Same thing with homelessness. I’ll work with you nine ways to Sunday to figure out what are your obligations when dealing with the homeless encampments, but I’ve got to tell you that when you get to the point where you’ve exhausted a housing-first services approach and you’ve still got someone who says, ‘I like being here stealing bicycles or dealing drugs’ or whatever, then you’ve reached a point where you say that’s not an option. You’re going to be arrested and Pete’s going to prosecute you.

ECB: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about sweeps. How do you think the city’s new Navigation Team, which your opponent takes credit for setting up, is doing at getting people living in encampments into shelter, housing, and services?

PH: I think that the Navigation Team is learning that if they don’t have actual, real resources, they won’t succeed. I don’t mean the Taj Mahal. But the shelters don’t work for a variety of circumstances. We’ve got to meet people where they are. If we’re providing housing that addresses all those areas and it’s refused, then you have to act. You have to say, ‘You can’t stay here,’ and you’re going to make an arrest at some point.

It’s interesting how all our labels are conclusory. If it’s bad, it’s a sweep. If it’s good, it’s an encampment cleanup.

ECB: I would say ‘sweep’ is fairly accurate. I’m not calling it a ‘purge.’

PH: If you’re not, as a practical matter, addressing human needs, if you’re not dealing with their personal effects, then yeah, I guess it is a sweep. But if you are doing that and you’re simply doing a cleanup, that’s a positive sweep. That’s sweeping up the detritus, the non-valuable property left behind that’s just from living and the human condition.

“If you want to avoid the guy passed out on your store or doorstep, if you want to deal with that compassionately and effectively of course we’ve got to have this. And maybe it’s going to be next to [someone’s] home in Laurelhurst.”

ECB: Scott seems to blame you for ending some of the specialty courts that were once available as alternatives to the regular court system, like mental health court and community court. Why were those courts eliminated, what were they replaced with, and how do you think the current system is working?

PH: I think that the defense bar recognized that by opting into community court, they were basically agreeing to a much longer [period of] supervision and interference than if you just simply said, ‘No, I’ll take my chances at regular court.” The defense bar was advising clients not to accept the community court offer because there were too many conditions attached to it. So what the municipal court did was to say that instead of community court being the one place where you opt in [to alternatives to incarceration that include access to services],  we want to make sure that all of those resources are available to all judges in all cases so that they can fashion remedies. In some ways, the municipal court may have expanded community court rather than disbanded it. So Scott doesn’t have the full story. It is in transition. I believe the defense bar would prefer to be working with us, because when we, both prosecutor and defender, see someone who is in the throes of an addiction and of course is making life miserable for everyone around him as well as himself, the last thing we want to do is just throw him in jail.

ECB: How will you support the creation of a supervised drug consumption site in Seattle, and how likely do you think it is that Seattle will accept it?

PH: We got to a state with marijuana where people are finally saying, ‘This actually works pretty well.’ Like the holdout cities that were saying, ‘No way are we gonna allow pot use in our city’—they’re starting to see that Seattle went from over 150 unlicensed, troublesome [medical marijuana] dispensaries to 50 well-lit, well-regulated legal dispensaries. And now they’re saying, ‘I want some of that in my town.’ It’s going to be the same thing with these medical sites We made the decision, wrongfully, to say, we’re going to put public health problems in the criminal justice system. So my role has been to try and slowly release those tentacles and get medical and health care professionals to get responsibility for it. When people say, ‘Where should they be?’ I say, I don’t know, but that’s why I want to hear form the medical professionals. And then I’ll help you with the land use issues and the criminal jurisdiction issues.

ECB: The answer to the question of where a safe consumption site will be located is purely political, though—it’s wherever people will accept it.

PH: I’d say that’s the cynical political answer. I think at some point, once we have helped switch this bad course that we went down of criminalizing public health problems, then I think we’re going to start seeing people get it. If you want to avoid the guy passed out on your store or doorstep, if you want to deal with that compassionately and effectively of course we’ve got to have this. And maybe it’s going to be next to [someone’s] home in Laurelhurst.

In some ways, opioid addiction might even be easier than marijuana legalization, because it cuts across all demographic groups. So what I think you’re discounting is that for every person who says, ‘I don’t want to step over them anymore,’ there’s also going to be a person whose brother is the person being stepped over. We showed a better approach [to marijuana use] than prohibition, and opioids is going to be a tougher one—it’s definitely going to need the medical community more involved—but I get so passionate about it, because you can just see how wrongheaded our traditional approach has been. And I could say, ‘Let’s do this’ and get reelected and start looking at the next office, or I can say, ‘How can I fundamentally change a bad policy?’ That’s not a small order. That’s a long haul.