Last year, Jared Gloster searched for emergency housing resources while he watched his 18-month-old son play in the kids area of the Commons mall, not knowing where they would sleep that night.
This year, he sat on the same benches and talked to The Mirror about his path from homelessness to stability through a program in Federal Way. He also shared the barriers faced by single fathers experiencing homelessness.
“I was told that my best chance was to put my son into the foster care system and to stay in a men’s shelter,” Gloster said.
Gloster’s story is not unique. Families in King and Pierce counties are increasingly vulnerable to homelessness, according to research by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development.
Being a single father can bring specific challenges.
“The fact is most of the social and shelter services available to parents are geared toward women with children, which inadvertently excludes custodian fathers,” Tamara Hill wrote in the study “Inclusiveness: Addressing the Needs of Homeless Single Fathers with Children.”
Gloster grew up middle class and has worked consistently since the age of 16. He never had any issues with unemployment or thought that he would ever be homeless.
This changed when a volatile custody situation over his infant son lost him multiple jobs and pushed him further behind on bills. He shares custody off and on to this day, but the inconsistency causes devastating problems. After losing his housing, he would sleep in his car and work during the part of the week when he didn’t have his son, then use those earnings to pay for a hotel when it came time to pick him up.
One day his ex-partner did not show. Gloster lost his job and his precarious hold on any type of stability.
Gloster said when he first became homeless, he had heard from several people on the street that there were resources available. When he tried to access these resources, it suddenly seemed much less possible to find shelter.
Eventually, another homeless woman told him to go to FUSION. He first wound up at the nonprofit’s boutique. Then some volunteers at the store pointed him in the right direction. They welcomed him, and within a few hours, he had a safe place to rest.
Since that first night, he has been steadily working through FUSION’s transitional housing program and is nearing full self-sufficiency.
“I don’t know how much longer we could’ve lasted that way,” Gloster said of that challenging time. “I hadn’t slept in three or four days and had tried every resource I could find.”
Shortage of options
“The worst thing for providers is that it is really frustrating to turn people away and say ‘we can’t help you,’” said Maju Qureshi, economic stability director at the Multi-Service Center in Federal Way. “Options are limited or not even there.”
The Multi-Service Center has a family emergency housing program that can support 15 families. Case workers meet with families weekly to build individualized plans to meet their needs. Length of stay can vary, depending on progress and needs.
To access these beds, Qureshi advised families experiencing homelessness to call the Family Emergency Shelter Access line through Mary’s Place. This line brings together over a dozen local organizations to match family needs with openings, ideally that same night.
This is not always a guarantee. In King County in 2022, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that there were zero beds available on average while 1,253 individuals considered part of a family unit slept outside each night.
The city of Federal Way provides a list of resources called “Finding Help in Federal Way.” When The Mirror called the four resources listed for emergency housing, they each had barriers of their own. Two led to recorded messages detailing how to access their services. For one, the first step was to call back during a one-hour window once a week.
“There is only one person answering this line” the recording warns. “You may have to try multiple times to get through. Your call may reach a busy signal or ring continuously.” Once a caller is able to speak to a person, the phone line is just a place to make an appointment, not a guarantee of aid.
Another location required resource seekers to show up during a one hour and 45 minute window, in person, with ID.
A third resource brought the caller to a direct line, but at 2 p.m. on a Friday, there was a queue of 36 callers to wait through.
Gloster also accessed the Federal Way Day Center during his time being homeless.
The center offers “showers, laundry, computers, phones, mail reception services, space for meal preparation, a full-service low barrier clinic, access to health care and social services. Case Management services are available Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Active partnerships with Healthpoint, Mobile Medical Van, Valley Cities and Sound Mental Health provide services on a monthly basis,” according to their website.
Gloster particularly remembers the kindness of two people who worked there, one of whom was a single father as well and promised to try to help.
Qureshi said one of the challenges that families deal with is that “they want to stay in the community they are familiar with,” she said. This is a logical desire, she said, and is especially important for vulnerable folks who may have limited access to established doctors who accept their insurance, or subsidized day care centers that require paperwork, etc.
This was an issue for Gloster, who said his family members live in Sequim. His parents couldn’t take his child full time, and he couldn’t live with them because there were no jobs there that could support him and his son.
Some programs in the area do focus on the specific challenges faced by single fathers. Fathers in Transition is one of these, through Intercultural Children and Family Services Incorporated. A member of the Federal Way Human Services Commission said in a phone call that this program may be expanding to Federal Way. It is currently based in Renton.
Fathers in Transition is a program specifically for “African American fathers who have been involved in the criminal justice system. These fathers face barriers to housing and employment. The goal of our program is to assist fathers with employment and housing so they can positively impact the lives of their children and the community.”
El Centro De La Raza is another resource that is working on building more affordable housing options in Federal Way and currently offers case workers who can connect folks to a variety of resources.
To families that are experiencing homelessness, Qureshi told the Mirror, “I think families that are seeking shelter and housing options should continue to be resilient and persistent in their search. It is very difficult because the resources are not as widespread as even providers would like it to be.”
Families who need emergency access to housing can call the Family Emergency Shelter Access line through Mary’s Place at 206-245-1026.