Seattle is Dying a Komo News Documentary

Table of Contents

Host: Let me ask you something. What if Seattle is dying and we don’t even know it? This story is about a seething, simmering anger that is now boiling over into outrage. It is about people who have felt compassion, yes, but who no longer feel safe, no longer feel like they are heard, no longer feel protected. It is about lost souls who wander our streets, untethered to home or family or reality, chasing a drug which in turn chases them. It is about the damage they inflict on themselves to be sure but also on the fabric of this place where we live. This story is about a beautiful jewel that has been violated and a crisis of faith amongst a generation of Seattleites falling out of love with their home.

There is another part of this story too. It’s about a solution, an idea for a city that has run out of them and I ask again, what if Seattle is dying and we don’t even know it?

Matt Campbell: I drive my 12-year old’s carpool through Yesler when we do carpool and it’s a good talking point about what they’re seeing, what we can do to help, how we can make a difference? And honestly at this point, I don’t have a good answer for how we can make a difference. The last 5 to 10 years, it’s not the place that I grew up in and it’s been really sad.

Host: Matt Campbell lives and works in Seattle. He’s raising a family and like many others, he’s mad.

Matt Campbell: It’s gotten to a point where I’m embarrassed of it. I don’t want to have my friends and family come here anymore.

Host: People didn’t used to use the word “embarrassing” about Seattle but if you listen closely, you’ll hear it a lot now.

Matt Campbell: It’s embarrassing, this is one of the most beautiful regions in the entire world and right now with lack of a better word looks like **** and it’s embarrassing.

Host: This is Mehrdad Derekhshandeh. He runs an upholstery shop in Ballard near the Burke Gilman Trail. See if you can’t feel his frustration.

Mehrdad Derekhshandeh: This is just, this is just what. This is not right.

Host: Out his window, he looks at this.

Mehrdad Derekhshandeh: Oh, they’re human being. Yes, I’m a human being too.

Host: Customers coming to his shop see the same thing.

Mehrdad Derekhshandeh: I have known cops from Compton, Watts, Salt Central. They have some power in their hand. Here you see a bunch of twinkle toes running around here. What the heck, because they run the city like that. They’re having problems. They’re having problems. They’re not having enough authority.

Host: There were fires outside his shop this past summer and Mr. Derekhshandeh does not blame police. He believes their power has been stripped away.

Mehrdad Derekhshandeh: The city mayor doesn’t give the cops authority. That’s the problem. We need somebody with some weights and tell them, it’s not legal living on the sidewalk. It’s city ordinance. It’s not legal living here. Why can’t we enforce the law?

Host: Last May second at a town hall meeting in Ballard, simmering anger boiled over into all outrage.

Lady: So, why do we see so many people living outdoors?

Man: Will you manage these camps and will you enforce the law?

Host: There has evolved a profound disconnect and rarely has it been more vividly laid out than in this exchange.

Man: If property crime is committed, violence is committed, you need to call 911 and the police…

Lady: You’ve lost all credibility when you say, you said two words. You said, call 911. Do you understand that the police have told us to vote you all out so that they can do their jobs and you’re telling us call 911. You’re smiling. You think it’s funny? You think it’s funny the way we’re living?

Host: The way we’re living in beautiful Seattle, people are angry, furious, about the way we are living. Let’s look for a moment at property crimes for the twenty biggest cities in the country. New York City in 2017, had 1,448 property crimes per 100,000 residents. Los Angeles was just over 2,500. Chicago, 3,263. And look at Seattle, 5,258. The only major city with the worst number is San Francisco, which is dealing with the same problems for the same reasons that we are. They topped the 6,000 mark. It’s not your imagination. The crime here, the burglaries, the theft, the stealing of cars is worse than in other big cities and in most cases, it’s way worse.

And then you walk down the street and you see a wretched soul like this consumed by demons, maybe madness, maybe drugs, maybe both. This is what suffering looks like. This is pain. Ranting and raving, screaming silently, coming completely unraveled before our eyes and then tomorrow, he’ll wake up and relive the nightmare all over again. Starving, eating trash from a garbage can. Look at the people walk by. Of course, they’re not shocked. How could they be? They see it every day. How can this be who we are? How can this be what we allow? How did the word compassion get twisted into this sickening reality?

Man: Don’t blame it. Shut up. Shut up.

Host: The Puget Sound Business Journal estimates that Seattle and its outlying areas spend $1 billion dollars addressing and responding to the homeless situation every year and they say that number is almost certainly underestimated. Nonprofits, city and county budgets, police calls to homeless camps, hospital services, building tiny houses, drug treatment and outreach. Picking up needles, clearing out camps, garbage details, chain link fencing and the more money we throw at the problem the worse it gets. But of course, what is happening in King County and on the streets of Seattle isn’t about dollars. It’s about human lives. How can this be the right thing to do? How can watching human beings live and die in filth and degradation and madness be right.

The cost isn’t a billion dollars a year. The cost is quality of life. The cost is people not wanting to take their families downtown anymore. Families not feeling safe in their own neighborhoods. The cost is people no longer feeling like they are hurt. No longer feeling protected. The cost is people dying in the streets and the rest of us getting used to seeing it. Numb to the suffering. The cost is incalculable. How did we get to this point?

This is a list of familiar faces, repeat offenders. People who break the laws, get caught, get released, and break the laws again and again and again. There are hundred names on the list. Scott Lindsey is the man who dived into public records and research the list.

Scott Lindsey: If we take somebody into the jail, don’t give him meaningful help and then put him right back out on the streets. We know they’re going to commit the same crimes in the same places and our public records are criminal justice records really show that that’s exactly what’s happening.

Look at the sheer volume of criminal cases. Calvin A, 68criminal cases since 2 thousand two, repeated random assaults on random individuals. Draining B, 54 criminal cases since 2thousand 16. Michelle C, 72 cases since 2000 and the list goes on and on. Seattle’s mayor says this.

Mayor: It is wrong to conflate homelessness with a rise in crime.

Host: For at least 100 people, it would at the very least appear to be a factor.

Question: Of the 100 that you looked at, what percentage of them were homeless?

Scott Lindsey: Yeah, from our criminal justice records, 100% had indicators that they were currently homeless.

Question: And what percent showed signs of addiction?

Scott Lindsey: Yeah, one hundred percent also showed signs of a substance use disorder.

Question: And what percent were mentally ill?

Scott Lindsey: Yeah, a little less than half had been evaluated by the courts formally for mental health serious severe mental health conditions.

Host: On average, the people on the list had 36 criminal cases each in the state of Washington and seven jail bookings in the last year.

Scott Lindsey: What this report also shows is that the police are working hard. They’re making contacts. They’re making arrests for criminal behaviors of again the same people in the same places over and over and over. What I think we need to focus on is what is our criminal justice system doing to support those police officers.

Host: The 100 names had between them more than 3,600 criminal cases. For the most part, few have done serious time. They are out in our communities walking our streets. The drain on the system, the drain on resources and manpower is incalculable.

Scott Lindsey: The fact that this system could go on with in effect a hundred percent failure rate for so long without anybody raising questions without city council hosting hearings, without any action being taken is so that it’s hard for me to explain.

Host: Richard Patton is 55 years old. Born and raised in Seattle. He works for the county. He looks around at Seattle’s post-apocalyptic landscape and is amazed.

Richard Patton: But this is, this border’s on insane. I mean we’re allowing ourselves to participate in an insane practice that is affording people. It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking.

Host: Richard started a Facebook page called “Seattle Looks like Shit”. It’s not meant to be funny. It’s meant to be sad.

Richard Patton: Pictures speak for themselves. I started grabbing a few photographs in the area posting those and the name of the site as I drive around. Look, I just say to myself, “Seattle Looks like Shit”. We’re fed up with it. I was fed up with it. That’s why I started the page.

Host: Day after day, one after another. The pictures on the page from every corner of the Emerald City paint a picture of rocks and filth that is being allowed to fester on the streets in the lots and under the overpasses of a once proud city.

Richard Patton: It looks like a third world. It looks you know junkyardish. I’m not heartless, but I don’t see that what we’re doing now is helping anybody and it hasn’t gotten better.

Host: Seattle police are afraid to speak out. For 2 years, we’ve tried to get cops to talk about what they see every day about what’s really happening on the streets and behind the scenes. More than once, the word “terrified” was used. Cops are terrified of losing their jobs and pensions, terrified of retaliation, and so we put out some generic questionnaires which were filled out by completely anonymous police officers. Their responses are eye opening, frightening, and a time sad. One officer wrote simply, “Yes, I am frustrated because I’m a law enforcement officer that is told not to enforce the law.” Another wrote, “It’s simple, start keeping criminals in jail. Judges need to stop giving them ridiculously low sentences and prosecutors need to stop accepting cheesy plea deals and actually lock people up when they commit a crime. That’s all it would take to drastically lower Seattle’s crime rate.”

Another officer said, “People come here because it’s called Free-attle and they believe if they come here, they will get free food, free medical treatment, free mental health treatment, a free tent, free clothes and will be free of prosecution for just about everything; and they’re right. It didn’t used to be that way. Law enforcement officers used to be able to enforce the laws.” This officer continues, “In the last five years there has been a culture shift and it started with the legislature decriminalizing felonies and dumping convicts on streets.” And then there is this, an officer says, “Even if quality warrant arrests are made, the judicial system sees fit to let them out of jail within a couple of days — often the next day. Why are we risking our lives to take felony level fugitives into custody if they’re just going to be released?” “Prosecutor’s office and judges alike seem to be drinking all the Kool-Aid causing a huge disconnect and a broken system with absolutely no teeth.”

Host: That is Travis Berge stretching out before we interviewed him. He came from Reno four years ago. He’s a musician, a big personality and he has problems.

Question: You’re a user, right? What’s your drug of choice?

Travis Berge: I use methamphetamines.

Question: Yeah.

Travis Berge: And I try to at least use it once a day, but I don’t really consider myself a drug abuser. That **** is amazing.

Question: You like the meth.

Travis Berge: I love it.

Host: Remember that list of familiar faces? Travis is on it. 34 criminal cases in 4 years. Things like attempted rape, trespassing.

Question: You’re on a list.

Travis Berge: Nice.

Question: There’s a list of the of the 100 they came out with the 100 frequent flyers.

Travis Berge: Really?

Question: Friendly faces.

Travis Berge: Of everything?

Question: Of all.

Travis Berge: Which 1 am I?

Question: Which number on the list?

Travis Berge: Yeah.

Question: Oh, you’re up there.

Travis Berge: Nice.

Question: You’re up there.

Travis Berge: I was just saying like I’ve definitely been the most in Seattle scared **** team.

Man: Travis, put the bike down, Travis.

Host: This is body cam footage of an incident on first and pike a little more than a year ago.

Man: Travis. Travis. What’s up? Travis. What’s up? Hey. Come on Travis. Travis. Travis. Hey. You Hey. Travis, put the bike down.

Host: It started with property destruction. And escalated into assaulting police officers. A bunch of cops were deployed.

Man: Stand up so we can get out of here.

Host: Berge spit on that.

Man: Don’t spit.

Host: **** them.

Man: Hey, no biting. Don’t bite yourself either. Santa Travis, we’re going to the gurney. Here’s the gurney.

Host: It lasted hours.

Travis: Well, I’m actually not even high right now.

Host: Travis is outrageously unapologetic about his life and his world. He could care less about yours.

Question: Do you steal for your habit?

Travis: I actually just started stealing last Monday. I started stealing, and oh my God, dude. That was one of the hardest sacrifices is to like do unrighteous things in front of my dudes.

Man: Travis, just relax. Travis, do you want to smoke? Travis, you want to smoke or candy bar.

Question: Will you continue to do that?

Travis: Oh, I’m having a blast now. It is so much fun.

Question: What should the system do with a guy like you?

Travis: I think that this system has done what any viable legitimate system would and they’ve really like exalted me and like shown deference and love towards me.

Man: I want to see you pick it up with your mouth. Remember when you caught it with your toes?

Travis: And like I don’t feel like I’ll ever be arrested again. I haven’t been in jail for like a year and three months or so. So, a change like that responding to a big change definitely shows that I have conquered the criminal justice system.

Host: Wanna know the sad part? The truly frustrating part? He’s probably right.

There was a police officer named Todd Wiebke. He prided himself on getting his boots dirty on meeting the people on the fringes in the camps. He tried to find common ground as human beings and he tried to police. He wrote a blog for a long time. First person musings about patrolling what happens in the dark shadows of West Seattle. Not long ago, he wrote this. “This week, I dealt with crisis with narcotics, with heartache, and with liars. Sometimes all at once, sometimes one at a time. I am helpless to unlock the doors when dealing with a person trapped in a horror inside their own mind. Lord, I try, but I am a limited man with just a little skill. I still love coming to work. We have an awesome city with the ability to adapt and overcome. The only way to lose is to not try. We are trying to solve this crisis and we will not lose.”

And then one day this past October Todd Wiebke was told by one superior to impound an RV and clean up the spot. And when he did it, another superior scolded him for doing so. Because of new protocol. He had a belly full and he walked into HR and he quit, retired just like that.

Todd Wiebke: I feel like I abandoned the ship that I walked away that and I did because I couldn’t do it anymore. It was just the bureaucracy built up to the point where I felt like I was no longer necessary as a police officer that the system had a different idea of how they wanted to handle it and I was in appendix. I needed to be gone. So, I’m gone.

Host: Ask anyone, they’ll tell you this was a good cop, the kind we want out there, the kind we need.

Todd Wiebke: But I will tell you that that there is no morale. There’s a love for the job.

Host: He says, the drugs, the camps, the theft, the rot, and the disgrace of it all don’t have to destroy Seattle they’re being allowed to.

Todd Wiebke: Everybody’s trying to do the right thing. It’s just coming out wrong.

Host: Listen to these next words carefully. Let them sink in.

Todd Wiebke: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that the only thing I can equate it to is we’re running a concentration camp without barbed wire up to an including the medical experiment of poisoning these people with drugs. I I don’t know how else to put it and it’s infuriating. Every camp I walk into, there was a weapon. Multiple weapons. I found modified weapons. I was constantly on the side of the road talking to people that were swinging machetes, holding an axe, armed with knives. Our city has even gone so far as to say, well, this much of narcotics on your persons. Okay.

Man: 3 grams.

Todd Wiebke: Yeah. Hey, that’s okay. So, that’s user quantity. So, when you start that process and people feel secure and okay having their drugs on them, what’s to stop them from doing it? How do you, now you’re pretty much okaying narcotics and the same officers that used to go out there and arrest them are now rendered impotent and can’t do anything about it and it’s just a matter of political will on the part of our city to go out there and say, hey, you can’t park your motorhome in this driveway with no engine in it with all this filth around it. You can’t do it. It’s wrong and stop them.

Man: I got to say man this is really nice. I am in heaven.

Host: He’s in Hobart now. He bought a horse ranch and shares it with his family and these friends.

Todd Wiebke: So, this is Griff here, the white guy. Alright, they’re a little nervous of the camera. So, horses are amazing. They are 900-pound chickens.

Host: And before we left this good cop who is now an ex-cop, there was one more question for him. And if you live in the city that Todd Wiebke used to patrol, if the people you love and take care of are here with you trying to live a good life, then his answer should send shivers down your spine.

Question: Let me ask you this, knowing what you know, having seen what you’ve seen, if you had a young family, would you raise them in Seattle right now?

Todd Wiebke: Absolutely not. Not even. No.

Host: There is a cemetery in Seattle, a Jewish cemetery. Campers and RVs parked next to it and stay. This man, Ari Hoffman.

Ari Hoffman: This shouldn’t be happening in civilized society.

Host: Says, the cemetery has been violated repeatedly.

Ari Hoffman: Prostitutes are working the woods. Drug addicts are working the woods. Our groundskeepers come in on Monday morning and they find everything from a weekend of fun which is needles on the ground, crystal meth on the tombstones, other drugs, garbage, they leave their garbage outside. They see feces on the tombstones. That’s left over from whatever happened the night before.

Host: By the way, the name of the cemetery is Beeker Holim. It means helping those who are sick.

Man: You’re mad, aren’t you?

Ari Hoffman: I’m furious. I’m beyond furious. This has pushed me to a whole new limit.

Man: Let’s get the sandbags off this one and we’re going to pull the whole thing forward.

Host: Ari has a company that sets up bouncy houses at concerts and festivals. He says, it’s not just the Jewish cemetery that’s being desecrated, it’s everywhere.

Ari Hoffman: And I used to say this place is great because the streets are so clean, it’s so beautiful. You walk down now; they smell like urine. The cemeteries are being desecrated. People can’t go to parks with their kids because there’s needles everywhere. My office, bullets come flying through the windows at us. It’s out of control. It’s nonstop and we deserve better and it’s all preventable. It’s all avoidable. It’s all fixable. It didn’t have to get like this. I wish I had faith in my government, but after two meetings with council members and nothing’s changed. I don’t really expect anything to change. We’re going to have to do this ourselves.

Well, thanks for coming down guys.

Man: Yeah.

Ari Hoffman: Appreciate it.

Host: A couple of months after that interview was done, Ari Hoffman who was thrust into the spotlight because he voiced his outrage who had no political aspirations of any kind and who was urged by friends and frustrated citizens decided to run for city council and he has no future political aspirations beyond the council. The other day he said, I want to fix Seattle and then go back to work.

A report received is when police file a report of a case requesting that the city attorney’s office filed charges on behalf of the city. Back in 2006, for every 100 reports received, 25 of them didn’t get filed. How times have changed? In 2016, the latest data we have for every 100 police reports. 46 of them, almost twice as many didn’t get filed. Nothing happened at all. They were completely ignored. Of the remaining 54 of the original 100, one third of them were then outright dismissed, thrown out. Another third, were listed as other with no resolution. So, only 18 of the original 100 reports filed by police actually result in convictions. 18, and of those 18 convictions after plea deals and lenient sentences. Very few cases end up with anyone really being held accountable. Those are 2016 numbers. We have no reason to believe the trends haven’t continued since then.

The real homeless you don’t see. Out of work truckers or construction workers who’ve run into bad luck don’t live like this. Intense on mud patches. This is something different. This is drugs, heroin, meth. Citizens know it.

Lady: Can we at least acknowledge the elephant in the room that this is also a drug problem. I’ve only heard it being mentioned as a housing problem. This is a drug problem.

Host: The quote unquote homeless know it too.

Lady: I have not met anyone else on the street who’s not in some phase of an addiction. I mean, of use of serious use and then I think that that’s the starting point. You just have to address that. You have to figure that out.

Question: So, I want to make sure I got that correct.

Lady: I would say 100% of the people that I have met out here are in some level of addiction.

Question: A 100%.

Lady: Yeah.

Question: Every single person.

Lady: Every single person I’ve met out of here.

Host: But listen closely. We constantly refer to it as a homeless crisis not a drug crisis.

Lady: The fractured siloed approach of homeless in our region.

Lady: To help combat the homelessness epidemic.

Lady: The homelessness crisis.

Man: We have a crisis around housing and homelessness.

Host: If we won’t even name the thing that is destroying Seattle, what hope do we have of fixing it?

Matt Markovich is a reporter for Komo. He’s out in the camps amongst the homeless and the addicted almost every day.

Man: Yeah, that’s the woman that I’ve been talking with right over there. She’s running, we’re trying to make this a park. She’s leading the spearheaded effort, the woman that lives right there.

Question: Is that right?

Man: What will it take for you to get off the street?

Host: Matt is responsible for Komo’s project Seattle stories. His is a unique perspective, a frequent witness to the underbelly of the Emerald City with the eye of a reporter.

Man: It’s a miserable life. It really is. You have no place to go to the bathroom. Fires are prohibited most places. Your biggest thing is theft. Everybody complains about theft. There’s no safe spot here at all.

Host: He’s seen it all. The rats, the human waste, the cold, the torment.

Man: You wouldn’t wish this life on your worst enemy.

Man 2: No, but it’s remarkable that people are choosing this. Even though you hear the statistics from the city that, oh, people don’t want to do this, it’s miserable, there’s a compassion for people. The people you see and I see in camps many of them are choosing to stay this way because of all the drug habits they have.

Man: That’s all driven by the drugs. Drugs rives everything we see here, right?

Man 2: I would pretty much say that substance abuse heroin meth even marijuana to some extent is the driving factor why they stay out here.

Man: You’ve sat down with the city attorney you’ve asked them about repeat offenders who get arrested 6070 times the thrown back on the streets. What does he say?

Man 2: You can’t arrest your way out of this problem. That’s a firm belief of his.

Pete Holmes: Why is the question should we hammer him now when the entire criminal record that you’re citing is proof that what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked?

Man: Do you ever hear about actual meaningful intervention taking place?

Man 2: I really haven’t. I can’t say one case I’ve been covering for the last year and a half that I know of somebody who’s gotten treatment and has gotten off the streets.

Host: Police say that on July 20th of 2017, this man, Louis Arby, the 3rd, 41 years old, removed the screen from a woman’s window at an assisted living facility in SeaTac and crawled in. The woman inside was brutalized for an hour. She was raped and beaten and choked and robbed. Police say Louis Arby also urinated on the floor. Afterwards, police say he left through the same window he’d entered through. The victim was treated for bleeding on the brain, a broken nose, and other injuries. She was 71 old. It was a shocking and disturbing crime but perhaps we shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Just four days before the rape, just 96 hours before police say he scarred one woman’s life forever.

Louis Arby, the 3rd was arrested here sitting next to the fountain right outside the King County Courthouse. Police say, he was selling methamphetamine. That’s him in the back of the squad car after the arrest. He was booked and then released almost immediately. Our criminal justice system decided that he shouldn’t spend even 24 hours in jail but even a brief look at his record would have shown that Louis Arby had come from California where he’d spent 19 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery, and carjacking and had prosecutors looked a little more closely. They’d have known that Arby was the only suspect in a case 3 months prior in which a woman was taken hostage, forcibly shot full of drugs, and viciously raped and beaten for 15 hours.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office says, “In this case we had information that he had a 1995 California conviction for kidnapped to commit robbery and other offenses. The prosecutors assigned to the investigation had no knowledge of other pending investigation.” And so, we are left with a question. How is it that a man is arrested in front of a courthouse in possession of a deadly drug that destroys lives? How is it that this man who is a long history of violence doesn’t even spend 24 hours in jail. How is it that he is sent right back onto the streets?

One Seattle police officer told us synonymously, “I would say all of the people living in sidewalk tents, doorways, and encampments suffer from drug addiction or more rarely a serious debilitating mental illness.” Another officer put it this way. “Intervention of some sort has to be made on the people who are involved. If there is no intervention, there’s no solution. It’s that SIMPLE.” This officer continues, “I used to be proud of the hard work I did and actually thought I was doing something important. I took pride in working hard and making good arrests while treating everyone with the respect they deserved. Now, it’s just about trading hours for dollars and it’s frustrating to me knowing I am becoming more apathetic and caring less about doing a good job.”

Another cop said, “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 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.” And yet another officer told us this: “Drug dealers selling crack, meth, and heroin are evil people preying on the weakest part of society and belong in prison. We arrest them and nothing happens to them. They are back out on the immediately. We need to acknowledge the disregard for human life inherent in selling life-ending drugs and lock the dealers up for serious time.”

Campers show up, they eventually get moved. They show up again. They set up where they please in front of tourists next to businesses it doesn’t matter. And they know that a lack of political will or an overwhelming of resources or indifference disguised as compassion will allow them to stay. And don’t think for a moment that the visitors to our city don’t notice.

Glen Commins: Well, it’s kind of surprising. I don’t know why the city would let that happen. I mean this is your touristy spot. You know what I mean?

Host: This fam is from Tennessee. They seem genuinely confused.

Lady: I just don’t understand. Isn’t it trespassing? You know what I’m saying? So, how can they stay there?

Glen Commins: Why does the city put up with it? Why do you, I mean that’s a public spot. Why does somebody get to stay there? I don’t understand that. I would be arrested. I thought my town if I did that.

Lady 2: I mean right by our parking garage there’s just trash and oh my God the smell is horrible in any stairwell you go into around here.

Host: Let me ask you something. Do you think they’ll be back to visit again?

Steve Danishek: And in the last 3 years, it just has gone downhill.

Host: Steve Danishek has spent his whole life in Seattle. He says, when misdemeanors stopped being enforced. It was the beginning of the end.

Steve Danishek: And at that point, everyone got the message. It’s a free for all down here. It’s a wild west. No laws apply. Do whatever you want. I could go down here and pee on the street or **** over there or smoke a joint. No one’s going to get are doing that because they’re not doing that. They’re not arresting anyone.

Question: If I was a city council member, I might say, well, we’re overwhelmed. We’ve got this homeless epidemic.

Steve Danishek: No, no, no, no. The city council is not overwhelmed by anything. The city council are idiots. They know that there are solutions out there. They simply have turned their back on the solutions.

Host: We don’t sweat the small stuff anymore in Seattle. Small acts of incivility are ignored and here’s why. If someone say urinates in front of the Nordstrom store, they used to be issued a civil infraction. A $27 fine. It used to be that a civility charge would become a criminal charge if you didn’t pay the fine. But the city attorney’s office stopped filing civility cases. They are dropped now, almost without exception, urinating or defecating in public, sleeping in parks, obstructing sidewalks, failure to pay infractions. All of it will you nothing. And so, the police have stopped issuing the tickets altogether. What’s the use? Small acts of incivility, things that cumulatively affect all of us no longer have any consequences in Seattle.

The businesses of our city, big and small are fit to be tied. Bob Donnigan is the president of Ivers. The conditions being allowed around our businesses are one thing.

Bob Donnigan: There’s needles and rats and garbage and feces. It’s not acceptable in a major urban city to have those kinds of problems where there are lots of people.

Host: But then with online shopping already threatening their existence. Along came a hoard of shoplifters stealing every day to feed their addiction.

Bob Donnigan: Yeah, I would love to hear what the total is of if all the beans in the business in the downtown car would put their loss of theft.

Man: Millions and millions of dollars.

Bob Donnigan: A year, and just kind of if they could compile that stat, we would all just probably drop dead after we heard what the total was.

Host: One of the officers who replied to the questionnaire we sent out agreed. The amount of money lost due to thefts downtown he said is staggering. Unfortunately, the businesses take the hit and the person caught stealing rarely has to deal any consequences. Denise Moraguchi is the CEO of Uwajimaya, the grocery shopping hub of the international district.

Denise Moraguchi: The system’s broken and I think that’s creating the boldness.

Host: Uwajimaya called 911 at least 599 times over a nineteen month stretch.

Denise Moraguchi: They’re bold when they get caught. They kind of just, they don’t really care and they often times that we will put in a police report and they’ll get a trespassing notification but and they’ll just walk right back in and it’s kind of like, oh, you have this trespassing. Okay what are you going to do? Call the police.

Host: And if you’re wondering why that boldness, she talks about exists. Of those 599 reports of shoplifting at her store in a nineteen month stretch. About 8 of the cases ended in some form of prosecution. Most of those because they also involved assault.

Scott Lindsey: It’s huge and it cost these businesses, small mom and pop businesses and large retailers alike. It cost them millions and millions of dollars per year. And you know what? The businesses don’t like to talk about it themselves because nobody wants to say how much they’re losing but we know it is millions of dollars.

Host: Citizens and shop owners had waited for the people running our city to come up with something, a plan and then one day last May, a group of construction workers got tired of waiting and took action.

Lady: Coming here for this important discussion.

Slogan: No head tax. No head.

Lady: As you know, I am also a rank-and-file member of the labor movement.

Slogan: No head tax. No head.

Host: On that day, the tide turned against Seattle’s proposed business head tax to pay for homeless services and affordable housing.

Lady: But if we fight against each other, the bosses win.

Host: The city council which had passed the tax unanimously.

Lady: You can say exactly what you think but rather than chanting against each other, let’s hear each other out.

Host: Was forced to repeal $75 million dollars’ worth of business taxes. And for a moment in time anyway, it felt as though something had changed.

Question: Was this your dream this shop?

Karen Danenberg: Yeah. It’s hard leaving. I mean, it’s hard emotionally because I’ve been such a part of the neighborhood here.

Host: Karen Danenberg ran her boutique in Belltown for many years and then things changed.

Karen Danenberg: There was a guy shooting heroin or whatever he was shooting on the sidewalk. I was in flip flops walking by. There was urine all over the sidewalk, mattresses, a pile of trash that was overflowing and it was appalling.

Host: She called the police. She wrote letters. Things only got worse.

Karen Danenberg: And I go to Bellevue and it’s calm and it’s quiet and there’s none of this stuff going on. And it’s a joy being over there. I never thought I would say I’d be ready to leave Seattle but I am.

Host: True to her words she left. Her stories in Bellevue now and it’s thriving.

Amongst the responses to our questionnaire, one anonymous Seattle police officer said, “There has to be some sort of intervention to break the cycle or people will continue to do what they do. 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.” Another said, “Seattle needs leaders who are willing to stand up for what is right and by doing so will ultimately help those who can’t help themselves. Hold accountable those who are hiding behind tents.” Reading through the responses, two things are crystal clear. The level of frustration and the fact that in spite of it all, they still care deeply.

One officer said, “Crack cocaine, heroin, and especially meth use are on the rise. Unless someone contacted for low-level amounts of drug has a warrant, they’re not taking to jail. They know this and have no problem using in open air. Drug dealers have caught on and have the amount they keep on them. It is currently impossible to combat the open-air drug market in the city.” That officer is referring to the fact that in King County, 3 grams of heroin or meth won’t get you prosecuted or probably even arrested. It’s unofficial policy. It’s only the much larger quantities say 20 grams that get prosecuted and the dealers and the users know it. 3 grams of heroin by the way is equal to 30 doses.

One officer summed it all up like this, “Let’s spend the millions of dollars on mandatory inpatient treatment programs instead of making excuses for their addiction and or crimes. The option should be treatment or jail. The cycle has to be intervened on or it will never end.” And maybe you’re wondering why didn’t they show the positive responses to the police questionnaire? The answer to that is simple: There weren’t any.

They use deadly drugs and they sell those drugs for ten bucks a dose. And over and over they steal us blind to get the ten bucks. And they pollute our streets and parks and neighborhoods. And they live in filth and despair like animals, and we allow it. All of it. We used to talk about compassion.

And when the madness that is always patiently waiting off in the distance finally moves in and wraps its arms around them and in the end, it always does. The suffering escalates exponentially until the misery is a white-hot pain that never stops, never rest. This man in the downtown core of our city was suffering in distress. Once he fell down, he couldn’t get back on his feet again so he sat there for a long time. At the exact same time, just across the street, there was another man also apparently in the middle of a drug crisis, staggering, out of it, lost in some other world. You can see the same thing on a lot of corners every single day.

To leave them alone is a death sentence. Sooner or later, they die on the streets or in tents or in low barrier tiny houses. To leave them alone is to shame ourselves. And that’s why they need help. They don’t need camps and injection sites and bags of free socks. They need help. The kind that takes courage. The kind that gives them and Seattle a fighting chance. They need intervention.

And so, the city of Seattle and King County seemed to be struggling mightily to find answers. We came all the way to the state of Rhode Island looking for answers and we may have found some right behind those prison walls.

Providence is a medium-sized city in our tiniest state. What they are working on here while not outwardly revolutionary or mind boggling at first blush is a bold step towards saving lives and cities and giving tortured souls who succumb to the hell of heroin, a fighting chance and in Providence is a man who will tell you about the program they have developed but first, he will tell you his own story.

Michael Manfredi: I didn’t have to do what I did. I want to be that I couldn’t be. I want to emulate to all the fellas in the neighborhood.

Host: His name is Michael Manfredi. He used heroin for 35 years.

Michael Manfredi: I became addicted out of every, at the age of 15. I was a full-flection addict.

Man: 15 years old.

Michael Manfredi: 15 years old.

Host: This is his mugshot from the last time he came to the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. 20 years of his life had been spent locked up. Nothing seemed to work. It was a life reeling out of control.

Michael Manfredi: When I got the handcuffs put on me at my house that day when he kicked my door in. I looked at the lady detective and I said, thank you. And she looked at me like I was crazy. She said to her partner said, this guy’s nuts, aint he? She said, I said you just saved my life. Because if she didn’t stop me there, I won’t be sitting here today. I would either be dead or I’d be doing life.

Host: The question facing Rhode Island is similar to the question facing much of the United States. How do we protect our society while at the same time showing compassion towards those who are sick and struggling. It may be the question of our time.

Dr. Jennifer Clark: I’ve wanted this program basically since the day I started.

Host: Doctor Jennifer Clark is the head of what is referred to back east as the MAT program (Medication Assisted Treatment).

Dr. Jennifer Clark: We can’t just ignore our way out of this. We can’t arrest our way out of this. People are dying and there’s something we can do to stop that.

Host: It starts out here really because the first thing that they do in Rhode Island is enforce their laws. Drug dealers and the people who steal and commit crime to get their drugs eventually end up in this place. The Rhode Island Department of Corrections. It’s not a nice place. It’s a prison. But inside the walls, something amazing happens. Every day the inmates who are in the MAT program line up and they take their medicine. There are three opiate blockers that work. Methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol. They are FDA approved. They get people off heroin. They save lives. Prisoners who enter the program choose which medicine they want to use. Michael Manfredi chose Vivitrol. He remembers when he first started taking it near the end of his last stint behind bars.

Michael Manfredi: And one night I got a call. It was about 6:30. Come to the front desk. I said oh no hey what will I do now? I know I didn’t do nothing wrong, but they said go see the nurse. I had tears in my eyes because I knew it was time for me to get that pill.

Linda Hurley: Really this is the perfect setting because there isn’t as there’s not as much distraction actually.

Host: Linda Hurley is the president of a nonprofit called Codac. It’s been around for 50 years on the outside. The state of Rhode Island hired Kodak to distribute medicine inside the walls of the prison.

Linda Hurley: All three medications you carry on your life. It’s no different than if you were utilizing lisinopril or something I don’t know. A blood pressure medication or insulin. You have a family. You have a job. You your life. What it does is it stabilizes; it stabilizes us physically so that we can do the emotional work that we need to do to heal from the disease.

Ray Vincent: I started messing around with the pills and everything and then once I found opiates that was, I was the end of it you know and then…

Host: Ray Vincent has been behind bars for 3 years. He was stealing to support his habit for a while. Then he upped the Ante to robbery.

Ray Vincent: Maybe if I didn’t come in here, I’d probably be dead.

Question: So, you think getting arrested was a good thing for you?

Ray Vincent: I think it saved my life.

Host: Ray takes Suboxone. He knows he may take it for the rest of his life.

Question: You sound optimistic actually.

Ray Vincent: Yeah, well I don’t want to continue to calm you the rest of my life. And if this medication is a stepping stone I need, I’ll do it. That’s the bottom line.

Host: Inside the prison, inside the mat program, the inmates have counselors. There are one-on-one meetings with recovery coaches and group meetings as well. They hit addiction with every tool they and throw at it.

Lauren Howard: And the recovery coaches come in and meet with anyone who’s willing and interested in meeting with them so that they can develop a relationship with them on the inside and then have that relationship sustained on the outside.

Host: Kevin Tanguy says, I wasn’t arrested. I was rescued.

Question: And were you stealing to.

Kevin Tanguy: Yeah, that’s my main thing what I do is I shoplift. I’m a shoplifter.

Host: He’s been in prison 8 of the last 10 years. He’s on methadone.

Kevin Tanguy: We get it at 12 o’clock and we’re monitored like we get dose evaluations like the doctors, the counselors that we stay in touch so that they can know if where I’m at as far as the dose is holding me, keeping me like so that I’m not really feeling that bad.

Host: The MAT system is a lifeline and these men are holding on for dear life.

Kevin Tanguy: I’m not afraid of a lot of things but I’m a little concerned about like I don’t want to go back to it. I don’t want to go back to it, because you don’t even know real anymore and I’m just I’m a little afraid of that to die alone. I want to kind of try to put things together. My mother is still alive. I want to kind of like make some kind of amends before something happens to one of us.

Host: Look at this place. Look at all the buildings, the infrastructure. What if this was a specialized facility where we could use all of our resources and knowledge to fight this thing that is happening? What if it was a place where doctors and counselors and case workers were available along with the treatment drugs that we know work, the ones we know save lives? What if this was a very specific place where sick people learn how to live life again? Job training, therapy, treatment, all of it in one place. It would have to be a where the patients couldn’t simply get up and leave if they wanted because the sickness is such that that doesn’t really work but eventually, they would leave and have jobs in families and maybe continue to use methadone, suboxone, or vivitrol for the rest of their lives. The way some people use insulin.

What you’re looking at is McNeil Island, completely abandoned for the most part. You might call it an answer waiting for the right question. It wouldn’t have to be here. It could be somewhere else. But maybe that billion dollar that we spent last year could be spent on a tough, compassionate concept that actually works, that saves lives.

As Seattle and the rest of the West Coast wander in the darkness searching for answers, it’s important to understand that the genius of what they’re doing in Rhode Island isn’t just that there is full drug treatment inside the prison walls. The genius is what happens when the inmates leave.

Leslie Barbe: Priority number one being how they going to continue the medication.

Lauren: The minute someone shows up in a program in the community, they have to be registered in that database so we know if they’re showing up or not.

Question: Are the numbers going up?

Lauren: The figure that I saw yesterday was 93% of the people who leave here on MAT are following up in the community. That’s amazing.

Question: 93%.

Lauren: 93% are following through.

Host: Michael Manfredi is one who stuck with the program after he was released. He’s alive to talk about it.

Michael Manfredi: Would I be where I am today if this program wasn’t implemented? No. I wouldn’t be here today. Honest to God, I’d be dead.

Host: This is a Codac Center. They are sprinkled throughout Rhode Island. There are seven of them in Providence alone.

Leslie Barber: Once you into the Department of Corrections and are medicated under methadone or suboxone or Vivitrol, you become a Codac patient. You have a patient ID number in our system and our agencies throughout Rhode Island are all connected.

Host: Former inmates or anyone else in the program show up anytime, any day.

Lady: Take home bottles. So, those will be filled.

Host: And they get their medication. No red tape, no questions asked, no doctor’s appointments, no vouchers. They’re in the system. They get their meds. It’s that simple.

Josh Broadfoot overdosed 12 times and somehow survived. He got three years for selling drugs.

Josh Broadfoot: I’m grateful that I was arrested and taken out of the situation I was in because I mean it is sounds **** to say I’m grateful I was arrested and I’m taken away from my family but I might not even be there to ever see my family again if that situation hadn’t happened. I might be gone completely on this day.

Host: Josh is on Methadone. The MAT program he says gives him hope.

Josh Broadfoot: You got to get out there and do different but at the same time we have a little bit of help on the way. We have this counseling. We have something that we know is helping us to stay away from opiates and people that care and so that’s a major help.

Host: On the outside, those group meetings continue and so does the counseling that is so very important up to three times a week.

Lady: And I changed by becoming someone I didn’t want to be.

Michael Manfredi: My psychiatrist, my caseworker, my case manager, and my doctor that prescribes my pills all in one facility. I don’t have to go all over the state of Rhode Island. It’s one facility.

Brave Vincent: With all the counseling and all the support that I have it’s like it’s a very smooth transition. I don’t know how it would be if I wasn’t on medication. Because I don’t know if somebody if the next day, I get out I see a bag of heroin. Somebody I know just sees me on the street. Hey, gives me a high five or something. There’s a bag of dope in his hand. I don’t want to it’s scary to think about but that’s reality.

Host: Brave Vincent got out of prison 19 days after we spoke to him. He’s going to school to become a welder. He gets his medicine at a Codac Center every week.

Lady: It saves lives so I don’t think of it as being soft or compassionate. It is the right thing to do. It is what we’re obligated to do as healthcare providers. It’s the smart thing to do.

Host: Patricia Coyne Fague who runs the entire correctional facility knows that one of the ways of measuring success is looking at the death rate for those leaving prison.

Patricia Coyne Fague: Because I’ve seen it work. I mean you see the numbers people who would be dead are not, because of this program.

Host: Leaving the walls behind is dangerous because addicts who are clean will use the same amount of drugs they used before and then overdose. The rate of that happening is way down in Rhode Island.

Lady: And what we found was a 65% decrease in mortality for people with a history of incarceration.

Host: 65% and the program is still only about 3 years old. And maybe it’s just a coincidence that it’s been a group of women who have spearheaded a program that is tough, compassionate, and innovative all at once. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not. Michael Manfredi has a job now. He goes to meetings. He’s reconnected with his family. He’s productive. He’s happy. He’s alive.

Michael Manfredi: My biggest thing is my granddaughter. She melts my heart man. Absolutely. I’ve never been happier in my life. Because I’ve never lived a productive life like I am today. My life’s great man and I can’t thank everybody enough man, because it wasn’t for this MAT program. Michael wouldn’t be here today. I’m proud of myself, proud of my family, and I’m proud of everything I’ve done.

Lady: And that means so much to all of us. Me and the people who work in the program to do this work because the other reason we do it.

Michael Manfredi: I know.

Host: What they’ve done in Rhode Islands and in other places can be boiled down to two simple concepts, enforcement and intervention. Seattle and King County have retreated away from those things. We’ve left sick, tortured souls to wander the streets, to rotten filth, and die before us. We’ve turned over our city to those who would steal from us and addict our children. We’ve turned away from simple concepts that bind together society and keep it safe. Things like enforcement and intervention.

A city is a living thing. It has a rhythm and a heartbeat, a kind of soul. It is a collection of ideas that we protect and defend. Old ideas and new ones, and over time the ideas blend into a collective living ever changing dream, and the dream is nothing more and nothing less than a better life for our children. But behind the beauty and the ideals behind the bridges and the ballparks and the beautiful buildings, the dirty work is the fight. Great dreams and cities don’t survive without a fight.

Seattle is dying. Maybe with all the wealth and growth we became so pleased with ourselves or so busy that we forgot about the hard part. Maybe good people who go to work every day and raise families and pay taxes. The ones who built the city and dreamed the dream forgot about the dirty work. Maybe we forgot about the fight.


The Consider Podcast attempts to express opinions through God’s holiness. Nothing concerning justice or injustice should be taken as legal advice or a call to action. There is no political agenda. There is no individual moral life advice. Indeed, each person is solely responsible before God and man for their actions or inactions. The Consider Podcast is narrowly focused on one thing, and only one thing – the need for all to surrender to a life of repentance according to the whole gospel.

The Consider Podcast
Examining today’s wisdom, folly and madness with the whole gospel.

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