Laughter, Smiles and Heartbreak at Renton Resource Event for Homeless

By United Way of King County, on January 31, 2020 | In Events, Volunteering

Many of the families who went to the Family Resource Exchange in Renton in January were able to celebrate getting the help they needed to stay in their homes. For hundreds of them, it was a relief to know they would not have to live in a shelter, or a car or a tent. The children smiled and the parents laughed as they walked around Lindbergh High School picking up much-needed supplies such as clothing, shoes and food for their pantries.

People looking at shoes while volunteers stand behind a table
New shoes were available to people who attended the Family Resource Exchange

A Microsoft employee who volunteered at the event wrote about her experience and told stories of children enjoying the day: a little girl who cried because she had to leave the child care area because she was having so much fun; and another girl who asked volunteers to sign her United Way t-shirt as a way to thank them.

The same volunteer also recounted the story of a woman who got into a 12-week, paid internship program with FareStart, a program that helps people escape poverty by providing culinary training and job placement opportunities.

“She loves to cook and is excited that they offer help finding a job. And her baby got into an amazing daycare which he starts tomorrow,” the volunteer wrote. “She is in a program that will pay for the first four months of housing while she gets on her feet; she just needs to find the apartment. It’s a lot of work, but she is fine being patient. She has so much hope!”

several people in a large room standing in line
People got in line early to get socks, food and other items

However, for others who went to the Exchange, it was a frustrating day that left them wondering what their next steps would be. The acute shortage of affordable housing and the many barriers that exist for people who are experiencing homelessness means that the needs in our region far exceed the resources that are available for them.

So, for people like Ana*, a mother who was eating lunch in the cafeteria with her three girls after an exhausting day at the Exchange, the results were not as cheerful–her efforts to get permanent housing had failed.

Ana said she was evicted from her home in Burien and ended up in a shelter with her daughters, but then she caught a respiratory virus, so she and her daughters slept in her car.

But staying in a vehicle was no longer an option once winter temperatures dropped in mid-January, so she and her girls went back to the shelter and then attended the Family Resource Exchange to try to get assistance to find a home. Her status was particularly difficult because she didn’t have any income—her girls’ father was no longer in the picture. She declined to specify the nature of that relationship and how that had affected her situation.

“We have go back to the shelter,” Ana said. “They won’t be able to help me today. I’m already getting sick again from that virus.”

To make matters worse, Ana’s landlord has informed her that he has to move her possessions out of her former apartment.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to lose everything.” — Ana

“I don’t have the money to rent a truck to move my stuff and put it in storage,” Ana said while fighting back tears. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to lose everything.”

Ana said her daughters wanted to get new shoes when they first arrived at the Family Resource Exchange, but she told them that she needed to seek housing assistance first and promised they would go back to the shoe section. Unfortunately, by the time they returned to that table, the shoes had run out. Ana was able to get a few bags of food to take back to the shelter

Another young woman who was carrying a baby in her arms arrived at the school late in the day to seek housing help. She was informed that the financial resources had been exhausted by that point, and the direct service providers would not be able to see her. The young mother saw the dozens of people who were still waiting inside the auditorium, where the housing assistance providers were stationed, for their name to be called up. She left, the disappointment visible on her face.

Some of the working people who attended the Exchange and who need permanent housing face an additional obstacle: how to come up with the upfront money they need to get a lease. Many landlords require first and last month rent payment, plus a security deposit, which means renters have to come up with several thousand dollars just to move in. For someone who is already struggling, that is just too big a mountain to climb.

While Family Resource Exchanges do offer that type of rental assistance through United Way of King County’s Streets to Home program, by the end of the day that money had been exhausted. The ability to help more people through Streets to Home is limited only by our ability to raise donations for this critical program.

Several people standing behind a table of clothing
Winter clothing was available for attendees

Family Resource Exchange Events Help Families who are Experiencing Homelessness

The goal of Family Resource Exchanges is to help unsheltered families in King County, including families who are living in vehicles, do not have permanent housing, or those who are at risk of becoming homeless, as well as refugee and immigrant families.

Family Resource Exchange events have served 5,378 guests, helped more than 1,187 families connect to housing resources and have assisted over 700 households from falling into homelessness in the nine events United Way of King County has organized since June 2018 (figures do not include January’s event; those numbers are not yet available).

In partnership with Starbucks, a long-time sponsor of Community Resource Exchanges, as well as Mary’s Place, Wellspring Family Services and dozens of other service providers, Family Resource Exchanges offer attendees help to find housing or stay in their homes, employment opportunities, as well as legal assistance, child care resources and other services. The Exchanges also feature food banks, free clothing, hygienic kits and more.


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