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The Anacortes City Council neared approval Monday on a contract with the Anacortes Family Center for a social worker to whom the city would refer those in need of homeless services and chemical dependency counseling. The social worker would also assist victims of domestic violence and people in a mental health crisis.

It would be a pilot program for one year and would be funded for $50,000. The Anacortes Family Center would make social worker response available seven days a week.

While the pilot program would be funded by the police department, some residents told the City Council that it fell short of having a social worker embedded in the department. The primary concern: Response to a referral made to an outside agency would take more time than a response by a social worker who is part of the police department and available after hours. According to the proposed contract, a social worker would be available through the Anacortes Family Center during regular business hours.

Regarding homelessness, the Family Center would provide motel vouchers to the police and fire departments so personnel can drop off individuals who qualify for support to a participating motel. A referral for services would be emailed to the Family Center’s community resource manager by police so that staff could follow up the next morning.

Kate Clark is among those who supports embedding a social worker in the police department.

“This is a great first step,” Clark said of the proposed contract. But, she added, “As the data points out in other cities, the closest communication that can happen — from when calls are received to when support is offered — is what’s necessary.”

Clark recommended the City Council’s Housing Affordability & Community Services Committee, with community input and in consultation with existing embedded social work programs in the region, “create new methods — not just working from a perspective of the systems that we already have, whether it be from a nonprofit or a city department. We need to consider this next year as a time for research and not just for active implementation, in order to figure out what’s best for our town.”

Several council members agreed that the pilot program was a good first step and that data collected would help assess the program.

The council asked city staff to revise the contract and return it for a vote. Among the changes: a one-year contract rather than two; and monthly reports, rather than quarterly, showing numbers of individuals served under the pilot program.

The City Council voted in December to add $50,000 to the 2021 budget for crisis management assistance for the police department. What that assistance would look like was not determined at the time. The funding, composed mostly of savings from vacant positions, might pay for a contract social worker who could connect people in crisis to available services. Or it could fund a mental health professional skilled at deescalating. Or it could be something entirely different.

According to the proposed city resolution, the city works cooperatively with the Anacortes Family Center “to address homelessness and those in need due to crises involving addiction, violence and mental health,” and has seen “greater success in addressing these issues due to the expertise and case workers provided by the AFC.”

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