By Pam Mauk
Last Fall when we chatted with Sammamish Chamber’s Deb Sogge, we were struck by her personal story of a time when her family really struggled. We were humbled by her willingness to share how Together Center had personally impacted her life.
We should not have been surprised.
We heard similar stories of troubled times at a gathering today of community leaders offering their assistance. They included spokespeople for major Eastside companies. Elected officials. Civic club leaders. Our own Board of Directors. Gathered for lunch based on their ability to draw other leaders, we heard:
“I lived in my car with a child.”
“After my divorce, I learned that just a little help can make a huge difference.”
“I was raised by a disabled single parent. We survived with welfare and free lunch programs.”
“I’ve used the youth counseling programs at YES, and HealthPoint’s medical services. I am a Together Center client.”
We were humbled once again by the willingness of people to share their stories. Their empathy toward those in need of human services was made all the clearer. They know well: all people need a little help now and then. With supports in place when they are needed, future leaders survive and thrive.
When I moved from Seattle to the Eastside in the late eighties, my friends rolled their eyes with urban sophistication. They mocked my move to what they considered to be the monotonously wealthy Eastside.
I quickly learned the falsity of this view. Sure, there was lots of evidence of money but working and volunteering in health and human services made crystal clear the diversity of people, even in the 80s.
More than 20 years later, with even greater density and variety of people, that myth of a uniformly well-off Eastside is even less true, yet the myth still sticks. And, moreover, it hurts.
Nearly 5% of families live in poverty in East King County. That’s more than 20,000 people. It hurts when our community assumes its needs are met. It hurts when funding moves elsewhere. Hunger feels as badly here as anywhere, as does homelessness or domestic violence.
This misconception has long been called The Eastside Myth by agency staffs. It is just one of a number of myths that keep us from creating the community we all want: healthy and thriving.
The Eastside Human Services Forum (www.eastsideforum.org), one of our partners, has chosen to take on the important work of combating such never-true myths, as well as growing the understanding of available services and those who use them. We look forward to sharing the results.
“Domestic violence occurs in all communities, cultures and income levels. Our community is not immune to this problem,” Together Center’s newest Board Member and Redmond Assistant Police Chief Kristi Wilson said recently.
One of Together Center’s key messages is that human services are not just for the poor. People of all income levels utilize community supports such as those on the Together Center campus. Domestic violence, among other areas of need, impacts people of all cultures, all ethnicities and all income levels.
We recall one Eastside woman with two young kids who visited our door week after week in tears, unable to find a safe place to live despite abuse by a husband.
On another day, the ostensibly wealthy wife of a software professional sought help, terrified at any moment that her husband was stalking her. Days later: the same scenario with a different mother. For these women, refuge was found with a great deal of perseverance, but the odds are poor.
LIFEWIRE, which offers safe housing, tells us they must now turn away 34 of every 35 women who seek emergency refuge in shelter with them.
A well-known Group Health Cooperative study showed that domestic violence rate for women in King County is nearly twice that found in national studies (44% had experienced at least one incident). And interestingly, their study pool included primarily white, higher educated and employed women.
People like many of you and me. People who belong to Chambers of Commerce. People who operate businesses nearby.
It’s true. People of all income levels utilize health and human services, including help with domestic violence. With your support of community services, assistance may be available for everyone when they really need the help.
(For information and referral to community services, call 211. The LIFEWIRE hotline is 425-746-1940.)
Imagine having this talk with a stranger: “My mother is losing her sense of reality. She gets very angry. We need some help, but we don’t know where to start.”
This would be a difficult conversation for any of us.
Now, picture trying to have this conversation in a foreign language. Imagine trying to convey the specifics of this delicate situation and then to understand the response, follow directions to other agencies, and perhaps map out how to use the public transportation system to get there. You begin to get the idea of how difficult it is for many Eastside immigrants and refugees when, like the rest of us, they need some help.
Their dilemma has been an issue for human services staff for numbers of years. A coalition of interested groups launched ERIC, the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition, to develop strategies to assist. A directory in five languages and English, Helpful Connections, was first distributed to help.
A second major strategy was developed with Together Center’s assistance as the Eastside Cultural Navigator Program, operated by Chinese Information & Services Center. The center is one of two Eastside locations for this program. Crossroads Mini City Hall in Bellevue is the other. Navigators assist limited and non-English speaking individuals and families in accessing appropriate services and navigating through service systems. Bilingual and bicultural staff assist in Spanish and languages of India at the Center, and in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), and Russian at Crossroads and partner locations. (See photo: Spanish language navigator Alejandra Villarreal (r), with Russian language navigator Irina Chermeshnyuk.)
Thanks to this program, assistance is given by navigators for the most everyday of problems. How do I apply for a job? How do I enroll a child in school? Where can I learn more about nutrition? Help is also given for needs that many would want to speak about only privately. Preferably in one’s own language.
The donation of large boxes of hats, gloves and scarves to our Warm for Winter drive continued into the new year, which is fine by us. The need continues. Over 1,000 pieces were donated by on-campus agency staff members and friends in the community, in particular staff of Alexander, Morford & Woo.
Today, Barrett and Tom from Congregations for the Homeless picked up the last of several large boxes of hats, scarves and gloves. They were especially surprised to learn that most of the pieces are brand new and still in packaging. This made quite an impression.
Thank you, again, to those helping to make this drive a success.
Monthly the 18 agencies gather in a regular meeting with a variety of purposes, including sharing the latest news. This week’s Together Center Association meeting had an unusual amount of good news. Just a sampling:
Transition Academy informed us that 9 of 10 graduating this year from their program for developmentally disabled students have paid employment lined up.
Child Care Resources reported that they planned to be much busier on the campus in the coming year. They plan to double the child care providers they impact with training and other tools.
Friends of Youth’s Homeless Youth Service Center has increased the number of youth they shelter at night from 15 to 20 at least until April, thanks to a grant. That’s a big help to vulnerable young people in these cold months.
We are excited by all that our agencies can achieve in these economically difficult times.