EVERETT, Wash. — Dr. Donald Koontz is keeping a close watch on the space behind his dental practice these days. The Everett dentist and his son saw the impact of Snohomish County’s opioid crisis first-hand after a homeless camp formed behind his business.
“Out of sight out of mind type of a deal,” said Sgt. Ryan Boyer.
Tall trees had kept the area hidden until people called the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office with complaints about the homeless camp.
Boyer made a visit to the wooded area back in February when there was about a foot of snow on the ground. He said all the foot traffic led to a lot of trash.
"You could tell how many people were coming and going because of the boot prints," said Boyer.
After being informed about the encampment, Koontz used law enforcement’s advice as he came up with a plan to clear out the trash that had piled up on the private property.
"My son, he is 17 years old and he was looking for a project to do,” Koontz explained. “I said, ‘hey, there is a project behind my building.'”
Over the course of a four-day period during spring break, Koontz and his son hauled away three tons of garbage, including a five-gallon bucket full of used needles.
Boyer did some outreach before the cleanup started, talking with the group of people who were staying at the camp.
"We come out and we provide streamline options to get people out of their tent, into sobriety, into treatment, and eventually into housing," said Boyer. "If they choose not to engage services they have to find somewhere else to live."
But the work is not over for Koontz. Steps away from the cleaned-up site is another camp about a third of the size of what they dealt with previously. He plans to work with his son again to clear out the trash.
"It is just sad to see people living in this state. Hopefully, we can turn the tide on this," he said.
In Snohomish County, the sheriff's office has a unit of deputies and social workers who help those experiencing homelessness connect with resources and treatment services. The team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.