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Devastating Conditions Inside Plymouth Housing Expose Tragic Reality

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Leadership at Plymouth Housing, a low-barrier housing community in Seattle, continues to say the answer to solving the region’s homeless crisis is to simply build more affordable housing. 

But lately, cities like Kenmore have rejected this idea as they catch on to the non-profit’s low-barrier model. The low-barrier housing model, in many cases, allows drug addicts and mentally ill residents to move in without any requirements for treatment.

“The drug problem in Plymouth Housing is rampant,” claimed one Kenmore resident during public comment in a city council meeting.

Plymouth leaders insist this is fear mongering and that the concerns are overblown. “We can’t let fear and bureaucracy deny proven solutions,” testified a Plymouth staff member at a recent hearing in Olympia.

So, I spent time looking at what’s really happening inside some of their facilities in downtown Seattle like the Lewiston Scargo building in Belltown. 

Andrea Suarez, founder of outreach group We Heart Seattle, and I followed resident Mike Matzick for several months after he reached out to Suarez for help. Matzick says the conditions inside the Plymouth-run building were becoming unbearable.

As Saurez and I walked through the building, we noticed human feces in the hallways.

Matzick’s been forced to move rooms several times and says that he’s feeling hopeless. Signs on the walls warn of a bed bug infestation, and Matzick says his room has a rat problem. Recently, he invited us over as he smoked fentanyl in his apartment with friends.

Drug use inside the rooms is a regular occurrence. “This unit is a trap house,” says Suarez as she pulls drug paraphernalia off of the floor.

Matzick says the staff “don’t say no” to drug use on the premises, and his friend adds that “this is a harm reduction place, so they provide, you know, the paraphernalia like the pipes.”

When I ask if anyone is intervening on his behalf to get him into treatment, Matzick shakes his head “no.”

Suarez says that what’s happening at the Lewiston Scargo is an absolute failure of the Housing First model. The Housing First model, in essence, warehouses homeless drug addicts alone in housing with no strings attached.

“You don’t have to be clean, you don’t have to be enrolled in a program,” Suarez says. “There’s no accountability, structure, or discipline at all.”

In many cases, the residents are not getting better and, at times, overdosing and dying in their rooms. 

I spoke with other residents at the building who say case managers and staff quit so often that it feels like no one is around to help them find jobs or take steps to get out of their current situation. “Each person I’ve had, pretty much they don’t exist,” one resident tells me. “We met like two times and then they called it quits or whatever.”

I reached out to Plymouth Housing about these concerns and allegations but have yet to receive a response.

“The conditions in this place are almost worse than they are on the streets…I didn’t have cockroaches and rats in my tent” says one of the residents. Meanwhile, Suarez is trying to help.

“If you want off of that [fentanyl], I will help you,” Suarez says as she kneels down and holds the hand of a man in Matzick’s room. “I’ll take you detox and we’ll take you to a six month place where you can get free so you don’t have to smoke that anymore.”

She invites residents like Matzick out into the neighborhood and pays them to pick up trash, giving them a sense of purpose and belonging.

Suarez is creating a sense of community that Matzick and others say is missing behind these closed doors. 

“You can see, they didn’t say ‘get out of here,’ they didn’t say ‘don’t look at these drugs in my hand,’ they didn’t hide the foil,” Andrea tells me. “They’re telling their stories because it’s a cry for help, it’s crying out loud for help.”

Although it’s clearly not working, the city of Seattle continues to fund programs like Plymouth Housing. Why? “Because they refuse to change their minds,” says Suarez.

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.