City leaders want to redirect health district per capita funds to community resource center

ARLINGTON – The city is re-evaluating funds it gives the Snohomish Health District annually after some City Councilmembers said the money would be better spent with a group having a more face-to-face impact on lives.

During discussions about modifications to the city’s budget, Councilman Mike Hopson raised the idea of helping fund the Arlington Community Resource Center.

The program housed at the Stillaguamish Senior Center is one of four family support centers countywide. The center provided housing, employment, food and transportation support to families after the Oso slide in 2014, but it has taken on a broader role addressing homelessness and addiction with and apart from the embedded social worker program.

The city uses the center for a variety of purposes, Hopson said. “Our police and fire have told me how much they do use it, and rely on it,” he said, “and some of us go around and brag about it, so I think we should step up.”

Mayor Barb Tolbert agreed. “I believe that organization is doing more to support some of our street issues and some of the people falling through the cracks in our city than anybody else is,” she said. “They struggle for funding.”

The center exists under the umbrella of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, which subsidizes the center at about $180,000. From January through August, the center offered services, resources and referrals to 1,094 families, helped secure housing for 47 low-income families, stopped several evictions and provided mental health services to 241 participants.

The council’s discussion turned to where funds might come from. One idea was the health district. The city pays $1 per resident. Others countywide pay up to $2 a resident. Arlington paid $19,300 in 2019 and would pay the same in 2020.

Several council members have said they haven’t received much from the health district – beyond access to free needle cleanup kits and forums on public health issues like vaping.

“I would way rather keep the money in the community,” Councilman Josh Roundy said.

The health district’s larger goals are to provide basic public health services such as ensuring safe food, inspecting septic systems, responding to disasters, and preventing and responding to disease outbreaks.

Hopson wanted to amend the 2019 budget and earmark $30,000 for the center, then repeat for 2020.

The councilmembers weren’t ready to allocate funds for 2019. “I don’t disagree with your heart, but I’m going to say ‘no’ on that one,” Roundy said.

Councilwoman Debora Nelson said she wasn’t opposed to helping fund the center but needed assurances about how money would be spent.

Councilwoman Jan Schuette said she supports the resource center, even making Costco runs for diapers, socks, gloves or other needs.

“I personally have written checks because they were down to their last hundred dollars,” she said. “I’d like to see the city decide to support it somehow or another.”

Finance director Kristin Garcia said she removed the line item for the health district payment to make an equal funding contribution to the center.

Tolbert said re-directing the funding doesn’t mean the health district didn’t meet needs. “It’s just that the family resource center is meeting that need in a much more direct and visible way,” she said, adding the next step is to work with resource center leaders on what funds would be used for.

How to donate

The city’s Social Services Flex Fund enables access to funds for Arlington fire and police to provide immediate basic needs to individuals who are addicted to opiates.

Funds are meant to fill the two to three-day time gap between when a person decides to stop using and gets connected to services.

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