It can’t be just us-them with homeless

It was too cold and wet outside for outdoor recess, so our daughter and her grade school classmates were in the gym when a homeless man somehow broke in through a locked door and lunged toward her playmate.

It was unclear whether he was reaching at her to get her attention or whether he was intent on abducting her.

He ran away, never to be found. It shook everyone up.

All three of our kids went to a Catholic grade school located in the heart of downtown Everett.

It’s linked to our church, so we have many different ministries and missions in and around the campus, which spreads across three city blocks.

At one end, we feed the homeless and at another we sit with them at Sunday Mass.

But this incident 10 years ago crossed the line, so I formed a volunteer foot patrol of dads and a few moms and took to the streets to protect our kids.

During each school day, we stationed ourselves around the edges of campus in key locations confronting anyone who looked like they were trouble.

Our patrols were effective, but in ways we never contemplated that first day. The experience taught me a lot about how to deal with the homeless problem that has become epidemic in Everett in recent years.

Most of them were not from the Everett area.

Nearly all admitted alcohol or drug problems. Some had mental health issues, too.

What caught us by surprise were their stories and how we sorted through them to find good people, perhaps down on their luck, who cared about what we were doing as much as we did.

I still can’t shake one vet’s stories of horrific firefights in Vietnam from my mind. Many were family men who lost it all to addiction.

One, in particular, left a lasting impression on me. “I have a daughter too, man,” he mumbled. “She lives in Tennessee with her mom. Anyone touches her … and he’s a dead man.”

With that connection, he jumped up and joined in to help us protect our kids.

Over time, he became a quasi-informant for us that led to a safer environment.

Such is the reality of Everett’s homeless problem.

Some are heroes who are just on hard times, some are addicted ex-offenders looking for their next victim.

Most are hungry, broke and broken souls from other places.

Recently, I found an old timer sleeping under a set of stairs near my office, which is also in downtown Everett.

We know each other by name now. He told me my informant from 10 years ago was back in Tennessee, clean and sober.

Apparently he got to see his daughter graduate from high school earlier this year, just like me. We high-fived like two old friends.

“Been keeping an eye on your school, too, bro,” he garbled with a serious but comforting smile. “Ain’t nobody gonna mess with that place. Y’all are cool.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson proposed this spring an ordinance that would restrict where and how the homeless could panhandle in Everett. That got rejected by the City Council — and the ACLU threatened to sue over it.

The mayor was bringing back a revised ordinance in late October. He also was launching a number of other initiatives on homeless, including commiting $1 million to hire five new police officers, two social workers and another prosecutor.

While it’s encouraging that Everett’s city government is prepared to write ordinances and create some legal framework to support its police force, engagement by ordinary citizens and business owners has to be part of the equation to fully address the homeless problem in Everett.

The win-win is to protect businesses and citizens while saving a few of these poor fellows from a life on the streets. That involves everyone.

Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of Companies. Contact him at 425-339-3638 or tomhoban@coastmgt.com or visit www.coastmgt.com. Twitter: @Tom_P_Hoban.

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