It can seem like an intractable problem: people who move in and out of jail and back onto the streets, struggling with serious mental-health and chemical-dependency problems that cause the cycle to repeat.

Can a King County program called Vital break the cycle? A recent Seattle Times Project Homeless story suggests it can.

On Episode 106 of The Overcast, Project Homeless reporter Vianna Davila gives a behind-the-scenes look at how she reported the in-depth story, which traces the experience of Lanya Neeley. The episode was recorded at the Seattle studios of public radio 88.5 FM KNKX.

Neeley, as Davila explains, was having mental-health episodes in public, exacerbated by methamphetamine use — a scene familiar to anyone who lives or works in Seattle. She qualified for Vital after multiple arrests, including for striking a man in the head with a chain after he stumbled across her sleeping behind his garage.

“She was in a constant state of disarray,” Davila says. “It’s like a freight train when you are in the middle of this state, you don’t really know what is happening. She was hearing voices … She said if you were talking to her she wouldn’t hear you, she was hearing the voice in her head.”

Repeated arrests were not solving much, but the Vital program has helped Neeley achieve a more stable life and halted her run-ins with the criminal-justice system. The program gives Neeley and other clients what Davila describes as “a personal safety net” with a team of caseworkers, prosecutors and others working together.


In Neeley’s case, she eventually agreed to medical treatment, and has received antipsychotic medication that has softened the voices in her head.

The pilot program is relatively small, available to 60 people at a time, drawn from a list of those who have been arrested at least four times in a year for two of the last three years, and who have mental-health and substance-abuse issues.

Davila says it’s no silver bullet, but it has made a big difference for people like Neeley. “This is a long journey,” she says. “This cannot be the only solution. This is one type of program.”

Listen to the full discussion to hear more — including talk about the recent public feud between Seattle’s city attorney and a municipal-court judge over whether tougher jail sentences are a solution to the “Seattle is Dying” debate.

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