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Inside Olympia – Homelessness and Drug Abuse

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They’re seemingly two of the most intractable problems in society: homelessness and substance abuse. What can state legislators do to address these crises? This week we talk with State Reps. Strom Peterson, Andrew Barkis, Lauren Davis and Dan Griffey.

Peterson and Barkis are, respectively, the chair and assistant ranking Republican on the Human Services, Housing and Veterans Committee. They discuss what they see as some of the primary reasons for homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, and waning funding in past decades for mental health treatment and caseworkers, among other things. Another topic of conversation: whether there is the political will, or legal ability, to say no to homeless encampments.

Substance abuse goes hand in hand with the rise in homelessness. Both Rep. Lauren Davis, who is founder and director of the Washington Recovery Alliance, and Rep. Dan Griffey, who is a firefighter and first responder, deal with substance abuse daily in their jobs outside the State Legislature. Both are passionate about the topic. Both agree on the urgent need for effective local programs on the ground in local communities to deal with spikes in opioid, methamphetamine and other addictions. Rep. Davis says help is on the way thanks to the “Blake” bill approved last year, that will provide funding and programs not only for treatment, but pre-treatment outreach and ongoing post-treatment recovery support.

An interesting aspect of the conversation: Should treatment be forced on those who don’t want it? Is jail an acceptable place to house addicts, especially if no other treatment is available? Rep. Davis says the vast majority of addicts want treatment, that addiction is a shame-based revolving door, and adding more negatives like jail and criminal prosecution are counter-productive and ineffective. Rep. Griffey says first responders like police and EMTs have to have a place to put those with substance problems besides releasing them back onto the street, where they pose danger not only to themselves but others.

Plenty of passion, personal stories and policy considerations on this week’s episode of Inside Olympia.