Unconventional Ways to Help Struggling Families

By United Way of King County, on June 28, 2019 | In News

This is a guest blog Heather Lowenthal, Producer, Director and Senior Project Manager at Parallel Productions and outgoing Campaign Co-Chair for 2018-2019.

If you’re like me, the closest you’ve come to using social service agencies in King County is waiting in line at the DMV to renew your driver’s license during your lunch hour. I’ve never had to navigate the food bank system with my 10-year-old son in tow. I haven’t felt the panic of having to figure out where to apply for housing assistance.

We hear about Seattle as a city overflowing with services and nonprofit aid for people in crisis, but if you needed this kind of help, would you know where to find it?

A parent who abruptly loses their job or struggles to pay for both rent and food for their kids, usually needs more than one type of help. Connecting with the right government service or nonprofit aid can be the difference between staying in your apartment or having to sleep in your car.

Social services and nonprofit aid aren’t usually located near one another. Offices can be difficult to get to by bus. Hours of operation compete with work schedules or can require childcare so you’re able to wait in line.

United Way of King County saw this gap and took action. The Family Resource Exchanges are year-round spinoffs from the larger Community Resource Exchange, which is held annually at CenturyLink Field. With sponsorship from Starbucks, the United Way team designed a way for government and nonprofit powers to work together. All under one roof. All on one day. All for free.

Help with housing was the most common request from people so the housing agencies; government and nonprofits, were concentrated in one room. Each agency worked at a folding table, side by side, so people only had to travel a few feet between experts, rather than miles.

People needing job opportunities, healthcare, food and extra diapers had a similar experience. Volunteers guided them to the right stations.

I was assigned to the team handing out snacks to anyone who wanted them. We replenished juice boxes, coffee, water and granola bars. I had a chance to walk around the building and see all the different types of support services.

A mother and her children sit down with the nonprofit Mary’s Place to talk housing options.

The overall effort looked like a one-day, pop-up. But instead of new fashion or gadgets, this pop-up was filled with social service experts and volunteers, meeting with people on their terms.

This was only my second time attending a Resource Exchange. But, for the second time, I left thinking about all the people I met who really needed the help that one day could provide. Then I had another familiar thought how many more people could we help, if the Family Resource Exchange lasted for a week instead of one day?

So often promising ideas everywhere get hung up, delayed because they aren’t perfect ideas. Sure, one size doesn’t fit all, but if the data says a new approach would help most people struggling with poverty, then the United Way of King County quickly acts to give that idea an opportunity to succeed. The Family Resource Exchange is just one of the ways they have taken the lead, and created unconventional programs to help people faced with homelessness in Seattle.


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