EVERETT, Wash — Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Snohomish County's homeless problem is spiraling out of control.
Homeless advocates fear there will be a "surge" in homelessness once eviction moratoriums expire.
"I have seen more people on the street in every neighborhood I've been in than I have ever seen in my life," said Sylvia Anderson, who has run the Everett Gospel Mission for 21 years.
But there is one small step on the way to help bring some stability.
A million-dollar federal grant is providing 20 pallet homes that will temporarily house up to 30 chronically homeless people. They are 64 square feet, have electricity, heat and air conditioning and offer a taste of what life could be like on the other side of homelessness.
"Some individuals just need an opportunity," said Everett Community Development Director Julie Willie. "They need some stability."
Everett police and social workers are helping identify people who would be a good fit for the program. Sixty people have already shown interest for the 30 spots.
They'll be offered mental health and addiction counseling onsite.
The Everett Gospel Mission, located right next door, will oversee the shelters and provide food, showers and 24-hour security.
But residents don't have to agree to accept services or even stay sober to live there. In fact, there isn't even a time limit for when they have to leave the temporary shelter.
"Creating a time limit adds stress to their situation," said Anderson. "They might feel like it's a setup. We want them to be comfortable, but they will know that this will end."
Asked what's to keep people from taking advantage of the situation, Willie replied, "We expect them to be good neighbors. These individuals want stability, they want shelter, they want to have a different life. This is going to be a launch pad for that, hopefully. We don't expect to see people taking advantage of it, but we'll see."
This is the 40th community built across the country by Everett company Pallet Shelter.
"We're a little late getting to the game in our own backyard," said Anderson. "But we believe we can hopefully expand this across Snohomish County."
The focus of the Everett project is to clean up the city's Smith Avenue, which has been besieged by drugs, crime and violence for years.
A requirement of the pallet program was passage of a new ordinance that makes it illegal for people to sit or lie down on sidewalks within 10 blocks of the community. Police say they will "gradually enforce" the new rule, starting with outreach and warnings.
"We will enforce it if it comes to that," said Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman.
The overriding belief, however, is that people will use the shelters to make real change in their lives and transition to more permanent housing.
Anderson, however, says people will need to be patient.
"I am 100% confident it will produce some results," Anderson said. "Whether it will produce all the results every individual in our community thinks, probably not, but these are 30 people who won't be sleeping in someone's doorway."
Residents will begin moving in on July 6.
The pilot project is funded for one year. If it proves successful, the city will need to find additional funding for the future.