By Community Services Advisory Council members / For The Herald
We all benefit when everyone can reach their potential and, in turn, more fully realize their contributions to our community and region. Maximizing the potential of the people who are our neighbors, workforce and civic body is the surest way to build a thriving Snohomish County.
As a compassionate community, we must always be on the lookout for areas where we could do a better job of supporting people as they work to fulfill their potential. The Snohomish County Low Income Community Needs Assessment provides a blueprint for exactly that.
Every three years, the county’s Human Services Department conducts a needs assessment to better understand which community resources are the most difficult to get access to for households with low incomes. The assessments are conducted in partnership with service providers, local governments, communities of faith and other groups interested in supporting the well-being of our families and neighbors. The results are used to plan for service delivery and fill gaps in needed resources.
The latest needs assessment, released in June of 2019, surveyed 1,145 households who currently have low incomes in Snohomish County. In addition, focus groups were conducted in urban, suburban and rural areas across the county. Respondents were asked what resources are most critical; what resources are most difficult to access; and more specific questions on housing, employment and income, health and wellness and education.
The Community Services Advisory Council, or CSAC, acts as an advisory board for the needs assessment and other efforts to support underserved communities. Our board includes representation from low-income communities, local elected officialS and other partners. We understand that in order to function well our society requires some basic building blocks: high quality education, health care, employment opportunities, social connections, nutritious food, and housing our residents can afford. When everyone can have access to these resources our neighborhoods are safer, healthier and more vibrant.
Developing community resources certainly has its barriers. Limited funding, apathy or even “Not in My Back Yard” sentiments can all be difficult obstacles. Overcoming these obstacles requires open dialogue and a solutions-oriented base of support. Local non-profits, neighborhood groups, communities of faith, government agencies and active residents must all work together to achieve results.
We encourage our fellow residents to volunteer, advocate and lend a hand whenever you can. Here are some of the key findings from the latest needs assessment and where help is needed most:
• The most pressing needs identified by survey respondents include housing, dental care, food, benefits assistance, utility assistance, transportation and mental health services.
• Households with children under six also identified childcare as a pressing need. One focus group participant even said, “childcare is what put me into poverty.”
• Respondents expressed strong interest in obtaining professional certifications such as nursing assistant, welding, early childhood education and office assistance.
• People with disabilities, those who have yet to obtain citizenship, people of color, children and youth, and women all experience higher rates of poverty than the general population.
• Over 161,000 Snohomish County residents (21 precent of the county population) struggle to afford basic needs. A study out of the University of Washington Center for Women’s Welfare found that a single parent living in Snohomish County, with one preschool-aged child, would need an hourly wage of $26.55 in order to afford basic needs such as health care, food, housing, and utilities.
• For children growing up in low-income families, the chances for upward economic mobility vary greatly depending on the neighborhood in which they grow up. Children who grow up just a few miles apart in families with comparable incomes often have very different life outcomes. Moving to a good neighborhood early in life can increase the child’s income by several thousands of dollars later in life.
We have every ability to thrive here in Snohomish County, but we must engage in the difficult work of building community well-being. In order for our community to reach its potential in every area of social and economic well-being — education, economic development, health, child welfare and public safety — we must take steps to support the potential of all our residents.
The Community Services Advisory Council members are: Julie Willie Frauenholtz, city of Everett, CSAC chairwoman; Tony Balk, Evergreen Health Monroe, CSAC vice chairman; Melinda Woods, Resident Action Project, Secretary; Deana Knutsen, Verdant Health; Sister Adelaide Mohamed, Islamic Resources By Mail; Barbara Tolbert, Arlington mayor; Mary Wysocki, North Counties’ Community Collaborative; Jennifer Bereskin, Resident Action Project; Deanna Bashour, McKinney-Vento and foster care liaison.