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News / Northwest

Thurston County LEAD program has helped hundreds since 2021 despite limited arrests

By Martín Bilbao, The Olympian
Published: May 29, 2023, 7:21pm

OLYMPIA — A Thurston County program that diverts nonviolent, low-level offenders to support services helped more than 200 people last year despite recent changes in state law.

The county’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program connects those in need with peer case managers who help them overcome challenges and avoid arrest or jail time.

Officials who administer the program updated the Board of County Commissioners on its progress last week. The program served 222 individuals in 2022 and 109 in 2023 through March 31, according to data shared during the meeting.

LEAD Program Manager Jason Bean-Mortinson shared quotes from successful participants, including one who said their family was happy to see them “hopeful” for the first time in a long time. He attributed this outcome to how case managers approach participants.

“A lot of people that we serve have been failed by multiple systems,” Bean-Mortinson said. “It takes real work and dedication on the part of the case managers to build someone to a point where they can even begin to have hope.”

Other participants have said the program literally saved their lives, Bean-Mortinson said. For example, he said some have been saved from drug overdoses by Narcan, and others have been connected to needed medical care.

“We’ve had unhoused people fall and break their hips and been supported in accessing the hospital, finding respite care and then transition to housing,” Bean-Mortinson said.

Bean-Mortinson said case managers build connections with participants over months. He said they often help participants find housing, manage medication, enter substance use treatment, get an education, apply for jobs and reconcile with their family members.

“Most of our people tend to stabilize and transition out of services around six months, but we’ve had people that have been in the program pretty much since the beginning,” Bean-Mortinson said.