Speaking of bad luck and trouble, we've all had our share. Memphis Slim used his piano to wail, "Every day I have the blues. " This time of year makes us more inclined to help...

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Speaking of bad luck and trouble, we’ve all had our share. Memphis Slim used his piano to wail, “Every day I have the blues.”

This time of year makes us more inclined to help those run over by life’s cruel twists. Homelessness, a lost job, substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce, a debilitating health problem, a nasty accident or emotional turmoil all take a terrible toll.

Generosity during the holidays is real and makes an extraordinary difference. Combined with a smile, a kind word and an extended hand, the power of cash is magnified.

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The difficulty is sustaining warm and fuzzy feelings when the season is not so merry and bright. That turns out to require planning and purpose and commitment — usually by others.

Most of us contract out our good intentions to religious groups, charities, service providers and government. None is as strong or capable as a collective effort.

This truth is being explored and acted upon in cities along the northern tier of King County. Community leaders in Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell and Woodinville are stitching together a coalition to better assist those in need closest to home.

The North Urban Human Services Alliance is coming together in places that have not formally been places all that long. Shoreline, Kenmore and Woodinville are young cities, conceived and incorporated to deal with traffic, law enforcement, land use and development issues.

Now there is an inescapable sense that human-service needs for North End residents are part of City Hall’s community mission. The challenge is getting on the radar screens of busy city councils and lean city staffs.

Shoreline, for example, is a rarity with a dedicated human-services staff. Others delegate the assignments, perhaps to an assistant city manager.

Pam Gates, executive director of TeenHope, emergency shelter and youth services, chairs the efforts to foster a North End identity and put a strong voice behind local human-service needs. It’s all part of the challenge, Gates says, to do more with less money.

No one imagines the federal, state and local pie for social services is going to grow any time soon. Collaboration becomes essential.

Rob Beam, Shoreline’s Human Services manager, says the squeeze is on nonprofit providers from several directions. Their own costs of business are going up, including benefits for employees and liability protection.

Agencies that rely on Medicaid reimbursements are seeing qualifications for receiving payments tightened. The number of people covered is declining and the type of things covered is narrowing.

The geographical spread of services also makes it more difficult to help people whose lives are already complicated. The North End is light on mental-health counselors for children, access to food banks and domestic-violence consultations. Help can be scattered from Redmond to Bellevue to Seattle.

Years of work on the Eastside stand as a model for putting human services on the civic agenda and keeping them there. The city of Bellevue gets consistent rave reviews for its political, administrative and budgetary commitments to helping its needy residents.

Needy? Bellevue? The two hardly seem like a fit on the tony Eastside. That is exactly one of the first battles to overcome. Community education about local needs is key.

Here is another place where sustained effort has paid off. The 3-year-old Eastside Human Services Forum, chaired by Lauren Kirby, prides itself on keeping communities and elected leaders informed on social-service issues.

The definition of community includes cities, school districts, hospitals, nonprofits and interested friends. The forum’s board is heavy with city council and school board members.

Kirby has good advice for the kindred spirits in the North End. For example, it’s the kiss of death if one constituency plans and runs the organizational efforts and tries to attract the interest of others. Later on, keep tweaking the original structure to involve others. Target education toward new cities and newly elected officials who may also believe human services aren’t needed “here.”

Fine-tuning North End human services does not have the peppermint scent of Christmas. It’s hard work — long meetings and late suppers. I am grateful others will go, not me.

This good and valued effort all points toward getting help to the people who need it. It’s precisely the spirit of Christmas. Love made manifest — all year ’round.

Lance Dickie’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop