“Family Solutions” Targets “Bottom Third”

Northwest Division

By Captain Carol Seiler –
Divisional Social Services Secretary

“Here in Seattle, Mary and Joseph might be able to find a job in the inn, but there would be no rooms–even the stables are rented, and the rent keeps rising,” says Tom Walker, director of Seattle Social Services. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. So what about welfare reform impact in the Northwest?

Welfare families in Seattle have advantages: generous time limits (five years) and a robust economy. Entry level jobs are available at $6-$7 per hour. Retailers worry about enough staff for seasonal jobs. The Times tells employers to hire a promising interviewee, or they will be hired out in three days. Welfare rolls have dropped 10 percent in the 90 days since formal implementation of phase one (Seattle PI, October 31,1997). The June 1999 goal is only 11.5 percent, so Seattle appears ahead of schedule.

Local initiatives are focused on aggressively getting work, forming partnerships with companies throughout the city. One large urban church forms “support groups” that surround a welfare family in transition. In King County, at least, these are hopeful days for people in the top 10 to 30 percent of employable people, thanks to computers, airplanes and espresso. It seems the best of times…

Realistically, rents have significantly risen with the burgeoning demand for housing. Homeless count is impacted by people moving there looking for work. “There are so many families living on the street that the city has spent most of its winter response funds putting up families in motels. Our fear as winter actually begins is that demand for basic food and shelter will divert resources from those intensive programs that support families with the longest path to independence,” caution Walker and Bernadette Pergamo Pauls (EFA director).

That’s where “Family Solutions” steps in. The Salvation Army’s Emergency Family Assistance (EFA) and Homeless Family Assistance (HFA) target the other end of the spectrum–the “bottom third.” These families present greater challenges, a longer commitment of services and resources.

They are the historical “flock” of Salvation Army social ministry. “Family Solutions” will direct intensive efforts to help families in crisis, specifically formerly chemically dependent families. This will supplement EFA and HFA programs that operate using scattered sites and supportive home visits. HFA staff find that sympathetic landlords and HUD dollars give a 70 percent success rate in finding permanent housing and family stability.

EFA rents apartments from the Seattle Housing Authority with government grants, and takes families through a 10-12 week program linking employment, housing and solving a variety of problem issues, including domestic violence. Three of these apartments will now be dedicated to “Family Solutions.”

A partnership with Central Recovery Services will support recovery. These families stand to lose in the perception of quick success of welfare reform. These families need education, have multiple problems, come through violence, and will not quickly become dependable high tech workers. These are the people who need the Army’s attention.

“The Salvation Army is not going to abandon the most challenging families because they can’t meet a time line. We will focus, we will aggressively follow through with case management, and we will stand up for those getting ‘squeezed’ out of our society,” says Lt. Col. Chris Buchanan, Northwest divisional commander.

How? King County staff are forming work committees to strategize for job retention and related welfare reform issues. People need living wages. Breadwinners need skills and education. Prevention must focus on breaking cycles of chaos for children. Food pantries and caseworkers are monitoring numbers to answer the question, “Who is working, but relies on subsidies of food, utility or rent assistance from charities in order to remain off the rolls?” Downtown Seattle emergency services see a food pantry that used to last one month depleted in two weeks.

In the first blush of welfare reform “successes,” the Army can be cautiously optimistic, but should avoid the seduction of the quick fix. Hard work, solid planning, caring relationships and step-by-step case work continue to be the foundation for “Family Solutions.”

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