Justice Reform, Public Safety

The impact of drugs and rampant crime on Seattle has been apparent. According to a recent documentary, Seattle is Dying, there are hundreds of homeless men and women that are unable to get the help they so desperately need, and they are dying because of it. In Providence, Rhode Island, surprising steps are being made to save the lives of people like those living on the streets in Seattle.

Jennifer Clark, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections has created the MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) program to assist inmates with overcoming their addictions. Her passion shows through all the work she has done to make this program a reality. “We can no longer ignore our way out of this dilemma, people are dying, and we have to stop it.” Inside the walls of Rhode Island’s prison, the inmates take their medicine every day. The inmates are provided with a choice of one of three FDA approved opiate blockers: Methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol. These drugs have been proven to help get people off heroin and stop this addiction.

The MAT program would not be as successful as it is without the assistance of the nonprofit, Codec. Linda Hurley, the CEO of Codec, states that “they will use these pills for life. They are no different than a blood pressure medication or insulin. It stabilizes them physically so they can do the emotional work to heal.” The Codec centers throughout Rhode Island provide medicine to any former inmate. They do not require appointments or paperwork, they get their medicine no matter what, so long as they’re in the system. 

Another very important aspect of the system that has been instrumental to its success is that inmates have counselors, recovery coaches, and group meetings. They develop relationships with these valuable individuals while they are incarcerated so that when they are released, they can retain those relationships within their support system. They will have group meetings and counseling up to three times a week. Inmates who were once addicted and felt helpless, learn to live life again, have access to job training, treatment, and everything they need for rehabilitation in one place. When they eventually leave, they are completely new people with a fresh outlook on life. They will have jobs and families and, in most cases, continue using their medicine daily.

Michael Manfredi became a full-fledged heroin addict at the age of 15 and used it for 35 years. He spent 20 years of his life locked behind bars. He has said that being locked up saved his life. He doesn’t believe that he would be where he is today if this program wasn’t here. “I would be dead.” He now has a reliable job, goes to support meetings, and has reconnected with his family. “My granddaughter is my whole world. I’ve never been happier in my whole life. I’ve never lived a productive life before. I’m proud of myself.”

Ray Vincent stole to support his habit. He too believes he would be dead if it was not for his arrest. He doesn’t want to continue to come to jail, and is happy to take his medicine if it is the stepping stone he needs to rebuild his life. He is now going to school to be a welder. He will be taking his medicine for the rest of his life.

Another inmate arrested for shoplifting to feed his addiction was Kevin Tunguay. He has been in prison for eight of the last ten years. He takes Methadone, and states that MAT makes sure to evaluate and monitor doses, ensuring the inmates taking them feel okay. He is concerned about going back to drugs. “When I was on them, I didn’t know what was real. I didn’t want to die alone. I want to put things together and make amends to my mother.” This system has given so many felons hope for their future, and their gratefulness is apparent.

Josh Broadfoot is also thankful that he was arrested. He chuckles at the thought that he is thankful for being taken away from his family, but claims that “I don’t think I would ever have been able to be with my family if I had still been on drugs. I might be gone completely.” He is on Methadone. “We have counseling and medicine that helps us stay away from opiates. This program gives me hope. It’s a major help.”

The death rate of those that leave prison is a surefire way to measure success of a treatment program, and the MAT program is astonishing. People who should have died on the streets or from overdoses have not. There has been a 65% decrease in mortality for those with a history of incarceration over the three years of this program being in effect. Once they are released from prison, they must be registered in the Codec database, and an impressive 93% of people who have been released are still following up in the community for their rehabilitation.

The MAT system makes use of two simple concepts, enforcement and intervention. It could make a great difference in Seattle if it was implemented alongside stricter laws. The hundreds of drug addicted homeless people could regain their futures and overcome the need to commit crimes to feed their addictions. MAT isn’t soft or compassionate, it’s a proven program that directly addresses the issues faced by those on the streets in Seattle and elsewhere, struggling to survive while they are trapped by their addictions.


Justice Reform, Public Safety

In 2017, nearly 40 million tourists visited Seattle, spending more than $7 billion. However, this income is not immune to the growing homeless pandemic. Homeless encampments have sprung up next to tourist attractions, businesses, and populated downtown areas. Most visitors to the city are very surprised by the amount of homeless overtaking the city. “This is a tourist spot, I don’t know why the city would let this happen.” states Glen Commins, the father of a family who is visiting Seattle. His wife, Denise, also was astonished. “I just don’t understand. Isn’t it trespassing? How can they stay there, and the city puts up with it? If I camped in a public space, I would be arrested. And the smell is horrible.” 

A recent documentary, Seattle is Dying, brought to light how misdemeanors have stopped being enforced in Seattle. Urinating on the streets or smoking a joint will not lead to anyone being arrested. 

Before, you would be issued a civil infraction and a $27 fine for urinating in front of a store. A civility charge would become a criminal charge if you didn’t pay the fine. Now, civility cases are no longer filed; sleeping in parks, urinating in public, obstructing sidewalks, and failure to pay infractions will not be reprimanded. The police have stopped issuing tickets altogether because they feel like it’s pointless.

The lack of enforcement on the homeless and drug dealing population has directly affected local shops and restaurants, a strong source of Seattle’s revenue for tourists. Bob Donegan, the president of Ivar’s Restaurants, says that these are not acceptable circumstances for a major urban city. Shoplifters are stealing every day and costing stores millions of lost dollars. “The amount of money lost due to theft downtown is staggering. Unfortunately, the businesses take the hit and the person caught stealing rarely have to deal with any consequences.”

Karan Danenburg has run her boutique downtown for many years, but when she saw a man shooting heroin on the sidewalk, she decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She never thought she would want to leave Seattle, but her boutique was struggling to survive. She has since moved to Bellevue, which she claims is “calm, quiet, and none of that stuff is going on. It’s a joy being over here. I never thought I would be ready to leave but I was.” Her new boutique in Bellevue is thriving.  

Uwajimaya, the shopping hub of the international district, has been hit by countless shoplifters. Denise Moriguchi, the CEO of Uwajimaya, thinks that the system is broken and is giving the shoplifters a sense of security that is causing them to be bolder. “They are bold when they get caught, and they don’t care, they just walk back in.” She called the police 599 times over a 19 month stretch. There were 599 reports of shoplifting at her store, and only 8 ended in some form of prosecution, mostly just because they involved assault. 

There must be some sort of intervention to break the cycle or people will continue to do what they have been doing. The addict won’t quit because it has become too easy for them to use, and the dealer won’t quit as the consequences of getting caught are minimal. The Seattle police are just as frustrated with this situation as the civilians, shop owners, and tourists. One anonymous police officer implores the city government to “spend millions of dollars on mandatory inpatient treatment programs instead of making excuses for their addiction and crimes. The option should be treatment or jail, the cycle has to be intervened on or it will never end.”

The homeless population of Seattle have been living in squalor, filth and despair. They are stealing for money to feed their addictions for life ending drugs. The laws in Seattle have made it almost impossible to help improve the lives of these people or reprimand them for their detrimental actions. They need help, and they need more help than Seattle has been providing them.


Justice Reform

Seattle, a city once beautiful, thriving, and a hotspot for tourism, is now a collapsing swarm of trash and decay, according to the recent documentary, Seattle is Dying. This once gorgeous city now looks like the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. Mountains of trash pile up on the sidewalks, parks, and under overpasses. Small villages of camping tents can be seen everywhere. It is not uncommon to see the inhabitants of these tent villages consumed by their own demons or madness, ranting and raving in the streets. Downtown Seattle is especially plagued with this darkness, as shopping trips with family are a thing of the past. In this new third world city in ruins, everyone has become used to it. It has been normalized. People are dying in the streets and no one cares. Compassion has twisted into apathy. After seeing the destruction done to such a thriving city, one might wonder, how could this happen?

Seattle spends around $1 billion on their homeless problem, but this is proving to be superfluous. The property crimes in Seattle last year amounted to an astonishing 5,258, while New York City only had 1,448. Crime is rampant in Seattle, and there are almost no repercussions. Of a list of 100 repeat offenders in Seattle, 100% of them had a substance use disorder and were homeless. Less than half of them were evaluated for mental health issues. On average, they each had 36 criminal cases and 7 jail bookings in the last year. Many of the people on the list are unapologetic of their behavior. One of these homeless offenders, Travis Berge, hasn’t been arrested for more than a year. He is proud of the lengths he’s gone to acquire the drugs he is addicted to, and shameless of the citizens he’s hurt along the way. He feels that the justice system has shown him “deference and love” and feels that he will not be arrested again. This system has a 100% failure rate, and there seems to be no action taken.

Scott Lindsay of Public Records stated that “if you take someone into jail, don’t give them meaningful help, and then put them back into the community, they’re just going to commit the same crimes in the same places.” Our criminal records show that is exactly what’s happening. In 2006, for every 100 reports received, 25 of them were not filed. In 2016, for every 100 reports received, 46 were not filed. Nothing happened to reprimand these crimes. Of the remaining 54, one third were dismissed. Only 18 of 100 reports resulted in convictions, but after plea deals and lenient sentences, few people are held accountable.

Shouldn’t these problems be easily solved by the justice system and police officers? Seattle police officers are afraid to speak out. They are absolutely terrified of losing their jobs, pensions, and support for their families. Anonymous police officers filled out a questionnaire by KOA News about their thoughts on the state of their city, and what is being done to fix it. The responses are frightening and heartbreaking. They are angry at their judicial system that seems to favor cheesy plea deals and ridiculously low sentences that put these felons back on the streets in days. They feel powerless and believe they can no longer enforce the law they were sworn to protect.

One police officer, Todd Wiebke, made a great effort to find common ground between him and the homeless dwelling in Seattle. He showed compassion, respect, and encouraged the public not to give up hope. However, his belief that Seattle could be saved was tarnished when he was given the order to impound an illegally parked RV that homeless people had been living out of and was then chastised for following those orders. He quit the next day. He states, “The only thing I can equate it to is that we’re running a concentration camp without barbed wire, up to and including the medical experiment of poisoning these people with drugs.” There were weapons and drugs in every camp. People in Seattle now feel secure keeping drugs on them. The police were no longer necessary to this new lenient system. According to Todd Wiebke, the only solution to life in Seattle right now, is just to move.

According to the statements of the anonymous Seattle police officers, this is not so much a homeless issue as it is a drug issue. “Homelessness and drug use have become such politically charged issues. Politically charged in that the city, including S.P.D. administration, have ceased to be interested in policing this population. In a misguided attempt to help this population, the city has allowed the streets to be essentially taken over. The city is falling apart and becoming more unsafe due to politics surrounding low level criminal activity and homelessness. We don’t want to screw over the homeless population, we just want the ability to police them.”

Ari Hoffman is on the committee of a cemetery that has been desecrated by homeless camps and drug paraphernalia. This should not be happening in a civilized modern society. He has found prostitutes, drug dealers and countless homeless camps on the cemetery grounds. The gravesites are riddled with needles and there is crystal meth on the tombstones. Many citizens share his frustration and are backing him on his run for city council. He hopes to fix Seattle, but so much change is needed to replace what has been broken in this now fragile and hopeless city.

The crisis in Seattle has been deemed to be caused by homeless, but drugs are the starting point, and there is nothing officers can do about it. It has gotten to the point where any homeless person on the streets is in some phase of addiction. Substance abuse is the driving factor of why many of the homeless are still trapped in their lives of eating trash and living in tents. It’s easy to feed their addictions here. The legal amount of drugs allowed on your person in Seattle is 3 grams. That’s enough for 30 doses. Crack cocaine, heroin, and meth use are on the rise. Unless someone who is found to have low level amounts of drugs on them happens to have a warrant for their arrest, they are never taken to jail. The criminals of Seattle have realized this, and they are using it to their advantage. It is not uncommon to see recreational use of these hardcore drugs in open air. Drug dealers only carry less than 3 grams on them, and they are untouchable. “It is impossible to combat the open-air drug market in this city,” states one of Seattle’s police officers.

Drug dealers get arrested and nothing happens to them. They go free, they go on to sell more drugs and ruin more lives. The disregard for humanity with the action of selling life ending drugs needs to be acknowledged, and these dealers and addicts need to be locked up and rehabilitated, or this vicious cycle will continue, and Seattle will die.