As work progresses on the didgwalic Wellness Center’s second phase, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is already looking ahead to another expansion.

The center is located at 8212 South March Point Road and provides medication-assisted therapy, as well as counseling, to those struggling with addiction.

Operated by the Swinomish Tribe, its clients are about 70% non-Native members of the community, COO Dawn Lee said. The impact on Anacortes is great, she said. Not only is the center helping residents here with addiction, it is also easing the strain on the Island Hospital emergency department and area police departments, Lee said.

The center employs about 80 people now, she said. Phase two will add 20 more, and a third phase could mean 30 additional jobs, Lee said.

A new building now in progress will add 23,000 square feet. In addition to doubling the number of substance use disorder professionals from seven to 14, it will also double the number of mental health counselors from three to six and add a new dental services clinic. Crews are finishing the roof and siding now and are on track for a move-in date of Jan. 15, Lee said in an email.

As it planned that expansion, tribal leaders and staff saw more needs in the community, Lee said in an interview last year. So, it looked at housing, one of the biggest deterrents for clients to get help.

The tribe purchased the property adjacent to its current site, a property that used to house the Circus Drive-In. Lee said in a neighborhood meeting last week that the tribe plans to put three supportive housing units on the site (one for men, one for women and one for families), as well as a detox center.

“We’ve done our best, but we’ve seen that there’s a great need for housing and public services,” Lee said during a virtual public meeting held as part of the process to get a city permit.

Skagit County has a high need for housing in general, and housing insecurity repeatedly comes up as a reason blocking people from seeking help and staying with a program, Lee said.

Everyone who lives in the housing units would be subject to background checks and a screening process, Lee said.

“There will be kids on site; we will make sure it’s safe,” she said.

The neighborhood meeting was an early step in applying for conditional-use permits from the City of Anacortes, city Planning Manager Libby Grage said. The next step is submitting a formal application, which the city has 120 days to process. That includes a public comment period, as well as Planning Commission and City Council hearings, Grage said in an email.

Final details on what the project could look like is still being determined, Lee said. Housing could hold up to 90 families, she said.

The 16-bed detox center will be for people who are using drugs and need to be removed from the sober environment in the housing until they are detoxed and no longer using, she said.

The entire facility will include 24-hour security monitoring, as well as some gated areas, Lee said.

The Swinomish Tribe funded the first two phases of the project, a cost of several million dollars, Lee said. 

It will be seeking some partners to help pay for the third phase, including grant money and funding from federal, state and local agencies.

The only residents to voice comments and concerns at the meeting were Will and Breanne Shorthouse, who live near the didgwalic Wellness Center.

They questioned how safe adding more buildings and a detox center would be, pointed out safety concerns they already see and wondered if the center’s security team could handle more people in the area.

Breanne Shorthouse said she felt many concerns about safety and travel of clients to and from didgwalic were overlooked in phase two, so she worries a push to further expand will add even more problems.

Parking is also a concern, the Shorthouses said.

Currently, didgwalic has lined parking spaces and roughly 40 more in a gravel lot across the street, Lee said. More parking is planned with the expansion.

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