Northwest NEWS

November 8, 1999


Multi-Service Centers working to build better lives

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   A woman flees her abusive husband, hoping to create a new life for herself and her sons. Homeless, and with nowhere to turn, she seeks temporary refuge at Multi-Service Centers' Kenmore Family Shelter. Eventually she is admitted into the Transitional Housing Program, and now with a secure place to live and the ability to seek stable employment, she can look beyond the immediate crises and plan a future for her and her children.

   A widowed father of three children becomes disabled and is unable to continue working. He is in need of a lung transplant to save his life. His disability and survivor benefits don't stretch far enough to care for himself and his family, so he turns to Multi-Service Centers for food and emergency financial support. After undergoing a successful lung transplant, he has a new lease on life, but in the many months of recovery ahead, he and his children are depending on Multi-Service Centers to help them get through these hard times.

   An 85-year-old woman on a fixed income is having trouble making ends meet. She becomes a frequent visitor to one of Multi-Service Centers' food banks because it allows her to continue living independently and lessens her daily struggles.

   All of these people live on the Eastside, and they are representative of the many families in crises, who battle poverty, sickness, and homelessness each day. Many of them look toward Multi-Service Centers to help them survive, gain confidence in themselves, and begin life anew.

   Multi-Service centers of North and East King County (MSC) is the Eastside's largest non-profit human service agency. Established in 1971, MSC serves working-poor families, disabled persons, and hungry and homeless adults and children in the Eastside communities of Mercer Island, Issaquah, Woodinville, Duvall, Fall City, North Bend, Preston, and Snoqualmie.

   The mission of MSC is to help people become self-sufficient members of society by assisting with the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, transportation, and financial assistance. Most importantly, Multi-Service Centers provides hope to individuals and families when they experience difficult times in their lives.

   The agency's operations are housed among five emergency service centers, located in Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Bothell, and Carnation. Emergency services include food banks, home-heating assistance, eviction-prevention aid, and other emergency financial help.

   A large transportation center in Bellevue provides transportation assistance to seniors, people with disabilities, and others with medical and financial needs. Vans bring individuals to medical appointments, senior centers, adult daycare, the grocery store, and other vital locations.

   MSC also has a nine-unit Emergency Family Shelter in Kenmore that can shelter homeless families for up to three weeks while they look for more permanent housing. When the shelter is full, the agency offers motel vouchers for temporary shelter. MSC currently has twelve units of Transitional Housing, offering longer-term housing (from 1-2 years) and support services to help families work toward self-sufficiency.

   There is a focus on promoting long-term independence using an individualized case-management approach. Trained Family Development Specialists provide guidance and link families to the community services they need, including various life skill classes, parent support groups, medical and mental health care, education, and employment.

   Every week, approximately 6,000 people are served by MSC, and an additional 20,000 individual rides are provided by MSC/Transportation services. Of those served, 45% are children and 15% are elderly and disabled. The remaining 40% are employed, but still cannot make ends meet.

   Over the past years, the agency's resources have been stretched to capacity, because requests for emergency assistance have doubled and housing needs have increased drastically. To reach more families, MSC decided to create three new facilities, including a twenty-unit transitional housing facility, a family development center and food bank, and a child care center. The "Raise the Roof" campaign has raised $9 million to date, with a goal of $9.5 required to complete the new construction.

   MSC Public Information Officer Meredith Jacobson says, "We are almost finished with the family development center and food bank facility, which will be dedicated in late January. The transitional housing units and the child care facilities will be completed in the spring." She adds, "It is very exciting for us to be coming into the home stretch with this campaign. Many generous people and organizations have come forward to help and this has helped make our goal a reality."

   The organization depends on financial support from public and private sources, including grants, private contributions, in-kind donations, United Way, and contracts with local governments. In addition, it receives money appropriated by Congress because of its designation by the federal government as the Community Action Agency for north and east King County. Ninety-five percent of MCS's financial support goes directly toward helping Eastside residents. The agency also greatly depends on its volunteers who contribute thousands of service hours each year.

   "We couldn't run all our programs and provide all our services without volunteers," says Jacobson. "We have over 400 volunteers and each one is worth their weight in gold."

   In the decades since MSC's beginning, poverty in America has grown dramatically. In particular, there has been a 76% increase in suburban poverty. Here on the Eastside, the effects of poverty are definitely visible. MSC has been working toward bringing communities together to give those in need hope for a better tomorrow.

   For more information about MSC's services or volunteer opportunities, call 425-869-6000.