The recession's effect on human services | Guest column

By Dini Duclos, CEO, Multi-Service Center

Last year, the fallout from the economic recession deeply affected the human services industry, those agencies like Multi-Service Center that provide vital — and often, survival — resources for an increasing number of people out of work.

Here is a review of what we accomplished in 2009, and what we expect for 2010.

• Recent increases expected to be the new norm. Nearly 20 percent more people came to Multi-Service Center for services, particularly for services in basic needs, such as food, rent and utility bill assistance. We expect these increases to be the new norm for us, and we hope these new numbers stabilize in 2010. Fortunately, we were able to meet the need. Thanks to strong and generous community support, we helped more than 53,000 people from 19 South King County cities get back on their feet.

• Growth in people new to human services. People who have never needed to rely on social services need to now, and we’re seeing more of these folks at our doors. We expect this group, who mostly come with stable work histories, college degrees and/or self-sufficient backgrounds, to recover when the recession lifts. Their needs are mostly short-term. The good news is that Multi-Service Center is well-suited to help them. Our food bank, utility bill assistance program and rent assistance program, in particular, are all resources designed to offer stop-gap solutions during an immediate crisis.

• Demand for emergency housing and rent assistance is growing. In 2009, more families were left homeless due to job loss and foreclosure. With room at our emergency shelter for only 15 families for up to 90 days, we had to turn away 1,334 households whom we could not house. Employment and housing go hand-in-hand. We expect to see continued increases in need for shelter until employment stabilizes. Fortunately, we are equipped to help more people with rent and emergency assistance, thanks to federal stimulus money and other government funding. In addition, MSC is the lead agency in King County outside Seattle for the federal rapid re-housing program to help individuals without children get housed faster.

• Increased need for job skills training and educational improvements. MSC’s Employment and Education programs are the fastest growing segments of the agency. More than 711 people received help in these areas in 2009. We expect these numbers to grow in 2010. Fortunately, MSC’s model for helping homeless and underemployed people get stable work has helped nearly 100 people since its inception in 2008. For high school dropouts, MSC’s GED program has helped increasing numbers of youth and adults prepare for college. More people have been upgrading their English language skills as well.

• Decreases in funding from corporate and private foundations. Corporations and foundations that have typically funded projects and programs at 100 percent are expected to decrease grant funding in 2010. For nonprofits like Multi-Service Center, which rely on grant funding to run programs, these decreases could negatively impact our service. The good news is that while corporate and foundational giving may decrease, we expect individual giving to hold steady. Our experience has been that when the community understands a need, they respond with generosity. The Federal Way community, in particular, has been incredibly generous during this recession, and we thank you for that.

While the recession shows signs of lifting in 2010, we at Multi-Service Center expect a significant lag time between when the average person finds a suitable job and when he or she can dig out from the financial strains unemployment placed on them.

Now more than ever, Multi-Service Center and its many partner agencies in South King County provide a vital safety net for those who need help.

Thank you, Federal Way, for all that you have done in the past year to help people get back on their feet.

Dini Duclos is CEO of Multi-Service Center and deputy mayor of Federal Way. To learn more, call (253) 835-7678 ext. 104 or e-mail tricias@multi-servicecenter.com.

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