Once labeled as hopeless and worthless, dozens of recovering addicts are taking back drug-infested homeless camps, one by one.
The pocket of woods behind a south Everett Home Depot has been a haven for homeless, addicts and criminals for years. Mounds of garbage blanket acres of land. Human waste is openly visible and countless hypodermic needs litter the ground. They sit buried in the dirt, stuffed into bottles and even impaled in trees.
"It's like an Easter egg hunt, but there's no candy in them," chuckles Casey Flagg.
Flagg admits to shooting heroin like it was candy for years. She's now out picking up the mess she helped create in these very woods.
"I compare heroin to an abusive ex-boyfriend that you keep running back to," she said. "I didn't feel like I was worthy of anything better. I felt less than human. I was treated less than human. I acted less than human."
Flagg and dozens of other recovering addicts are now bringing humanity to those still living in these camps.
She was rescued by a group called Project Hand Up run by Robert Smiley.
He, too, used to live in these woods.
Smiley and his crew approach addicts in the camps, offer them treatment, food, housing, a path out of the woods.
If they don't take it, a few weeks later the clean-up comes, and the addicts are ousted.
"We walk with them through their journey," Smiley said. "We don't enable them."
The Hand Up Project has gotten 13 people into detox facilities over the past two weeks alone.
"We are getting a number of them to get help. The ones that don't, wherever they get pushed to, we follow," said Smiley.
Perhaps most impressive though is the fact that many of Smiley's volunteers are taking it upon themselves to do their own outreach.
More than a year clean, Casey Flagg has started a small ministry and has already had someone from these woods call to take her to treatment.
"I want to be that spark that shines a light in them," she said. "That's the best gift."
The Hand Up Project is run entirely by donations and volunteers. The groups says it is dangerously low on funds, right now. They're not even sure they'll be able to pay the dump fees to get rid of the literally tons of trash they're collecting right now.
If you can help visit www.thehandupproject.org.
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