King County announces small grants to more than two dozen community organizations, in a bid to prevent homelessness. The money is coming from the Best Starts for Kids levy that passed last year.
At Mother Africa, a small, community organization in Kent, immigrant and refugee women and their children get help securing education, jobs and housing.
But with rents skyrocketing in King County, the agency is limited in finding affordable places for its clients to live. One setback, such as a medical emergency or loss of a job, can put their housing at risk.
Now a grant of $150,000 from the King County Best Starts for Kids levy will help the nonprofit keep families in their homes.
“We can’t afford $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment,” said Vicky Folo Lituka, a refugee from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo with two school-age children, speaking through an interpreter. “We don’t want to be homeless in America.”
On Thursday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the first of $4 million in investments from the levy, approved by voters a year ago, to provide support to children and their families. Twenty-seven organizations, many of them in South King County, received the grants to prevent homelessness.
The executive also announced $41 million in funding to increase the county’s stock of affordable housing. The package includes $14.2 million to build 549 units of affordable housing near transit centers. The county will raise the funds by borrowing against future hotel and motel tax revenue, allowing it to purchase land around future transit and light-rail stations before the property values significantly increase, Constantine said.
Constantine said keeping families in their homes is one of the most cost-effective strategies to prevent homelessness and protect children from the trauma of having no reliable shelter.
“This is far less expensive than folks falling into homelessness and then providing emergency shelter and other measures to get people rehoused. That stability is a bargain,” Constantine said.
He said the money is meant to be flexible and to address specific needs such as clothes for a job interview or a first month’s rent. The individualized approach, which includes case management, is based on a successful pilot project funded from 2011 to 2014 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the survivors of domestic violence and their children.
In the pilot project, 96 percent of participants still had housing 18 months after they entered the program — and without the need for intensive, ongoing services — according to a summary of the project by the county. The financial assistance to keep each family stabilized in their home was an average $1,250 per household.
Although many of the organizations receiving the homelessness prevention grants have never gotten county money before, Constantine said the county has employed similar community-based outreach. He cited two successful county initiatives — enrolling uninsured residents in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act and publicizing low-income discounts for Metro bus passes.
The 27 organizations awarded grants were selected in a competitive application process and recently underwent three days of intensive training, said Adrienne Quinn, director of Community and Human Services for King County. Additionally, she said, the data collected by the organizations will be cross-referenced with the county data on homelessness to see if the efforts are preventing homelessness.
“We will be learning as we go along which strategies work and which aren’t working,” Quinn said.