Member City Spotlight: Everett, WA

This week we are featuring one of our member cities, Everett, WA. Since 2013, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl have significantly increased in cities across the United States. In response to this crisis, Mayor Cassie Franklin has formed a drug crisis task force and secured funding for mobile response teams. Read below to hear how she is facing this crisis head on by convening stakeholders, building regional partnerships, and making resources accessible to her community.

Can you please describe the drug crisis task force and how it operates?

I launched the Drug Crisis Task Force late last year to take a hard look at the drug crisis, related to the increased prevalence of fentanyl, and related, serious impacts to our public spaces and public safety. The group brings together those with lived experience, healthcare partners, services providers, law enforcement, business leaders and others to delve into how we are addressing these issues and the many barriers standing in the way of progress. The task force has two co-chairs, a facilitator and staff support, and they’re covering key topics in each meeting, with guest speakers and ample opportunities for impactful and emotional discussions and new learning.

As Mayor, what have been the main barriers to getting this work started/accomplished?

As a city, residents rely on us for many essential services as well as supporting a good quality of life; however, our ability to collect the revenue necessary to continue providing services is greatly limited by our state. Additionally, changing legislation at higher levels sometimes results in changes that cities are expected to respond to, but these changes don’t always come with funding for implementation. When funding is available, it doesn’t usually go directly to cities.

Also, the programs and support available weren’t created with today’s drugs in mind. We need new tools including more treatment, case management, peer support and shelter/ housing. We also need options for those who are too unwell, unable or unwilling to accept services.

How are you attempting to overcome these barriers?

Advocacy remains important to addressing the widespread challenges related to the drug crisis, homelessness, mental health and public safety as well as the systemic issues that make it difficult for cities to make meaningful progress. I co-launched the Mayors and Business Leaders for Public Safety coalition with the mayors of Marysville, Lake Stevens and Sultan to allow our cities and business community to speak in a united voice to advocate for the changes and resources needed.

Community education is also important, helping more people understand the complexity and severity of these issues, what we are doing now to address these challenges and what changes are needed to really make a difference.

What key successes or breakthroughs would you like to share?

Through our advocacy this year, Everett secured $500,000 for a mobile opioid treatment pilot program that will bring medication-assisted treatment and peer support to individuals currently living on our streets, eliminating any barriers to accessing the medication and behavioral health services they need.

We also secured $4.5 million for an alternative response program that will offer a new option for responding to individuals in crisis. Rather than sending police or fire, we will have the ability to send a behavioral health specialist with the goal of connecting the individual with the services and support they need to achieve long term health and stability.

What learning lessons would you offer to other mayors on successful and effective leadership around the issue of the drug crisis?

Partnership is incredibly important. Collaboration regionally or across the state is necessary because the issues are so widespread. The challenges we are facing in Everett extend far beyond our city lines, so finding a way to not only work with our neighboring cities, but also partners across the region and state, has been crucial. For us, this also included helping our federal partners better understand how these issues are impacting cities.

We are so much stronger when we speak with a united voice, so finding partners that are willing to stand with you is very impactful.