In 1971, a group of Federal Way community members recognized their neighbors had a hard time accessing services. At a time when there were few human services agencies and transportation options were limited in South King County, that simple recognition grew into Multi-Service Center (MSC), a one-stop umbrella organization that houses multiple services. Expanding beyond Federal Way into communities across South King County, the organization provides support and resources to meet a long list of essential community needs.
The Burien Human Services Fund has provided funding to MSC since 2009, making them one of the longest-running human services partnerships the City maintains. Our funding supplements rent and energy assistance programs from both King County and local utilities. Our funding also helps support families at MSC’s shelter by increasing their access to safe, affordable, and permanent housing.
MSC operates 650 units of affordable housing in neighboring cities, and they operate a family shelter which Burien community members can access. They also serve as the southernmost regional access point for King County’s coordinated entry program, which connects people experiencing homelessness with available housing and emergency shelter.
In 2018, when residents of Burien’s Fox Cove Apartments faced displacement after their building was sold, the City partnered with MSC to help residents find new housing.
“When is it going to slow down?”
Before the pandemic, MSC’s front desk staff would answer many calls per day from people seeking help. Most of the people they helped were considered low income.
But during the early months of the pandemic, this number rose dramatically.
“We did not have capacity to serve people with high needs and at such high volume,” said Maju Qureshi, economic stability director for MSC. “Our receptionists would ask ‘when is it going to slow down?’”
It wasn’t just the volume of calls that changed. Who was asking for help had also changed.
“We received desperate phone calls from individuals who had made $6,000 per month before the pandemic who were now only making $1,500 or completely lost their income,” said Qureshi. “These are individuals who had never accessed rent or utility assistance before. They had never been to a food bank either.”
Several months into the pandemic, MSC hired a community access coordinator. The new position connects people with resources directly. They also worked with Public Health – Seattle & King County to set up vaccine clinics.
“Many individuals didn’t and still don’t have adequate have access to internet, or a functioning computer,” said Qureshi. “Not knowing how to navigate or how to apply for benefits, and then the system just being overwhelmed—this created a lot of barriers for folks.”
As COVID-19 relief and recovery programs were rolled out, MSC was tapped as a key partner. They provided payments to help people keep up with rent and energy bills through King County’s Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program (EPRAP).
As the months wore on, MSC examined who they were reaching with their programs and realized that they needed to be more intentional with serving harder to reach communities. They looked for smaller agencies or community leaders who could connect to community members who may not be able to seek out the help on their own. In Burien, they partnered with Highline Public Schools’ Native Education program manager to help local Native families access rent assistance. This “trusted partner” approach was successful in reaching people who were not comfortable or able to fill out an online application or call a hotline for help.
Access to food emerged as a huge need and Multi-Service Center responded by shifting their food bank operations to a drive-thru model.
They also heard that people felt isolated, especially among the veterans and unhoused community members they serve.
“People were seeking some kind of socialization,” said Qureshi.
MSC’s service area in South King County is home to the greatest number of people living in poverty in King County. In fiscal year 2021, 42,637 individuals received services from MSC. Of these individuals, 72% of the individuals identified as non-white, showing that people of color are disproportionately affected by poverty. MSC recognizes the harmful effects of systemic racism and its long-term effects that have placed hundreds of thousands of vulnerable individuals and their families in a cycle of poverty in the King County region.
Note from Colleen Brandt-Schluter, the City of Burien’s Human Services Manager
The COVID-19 crisis has caused deep and widespread strain across sectors and individuals since taking hold in early 2020. Despite this adversity, nonprofits—especially those addressing the safety net—have continued to serve their communities during this tumultuous time. Our agencies have not only altered their short-term organizational goals, but many have changed their programmatic priorities in order to meet the greatest needs.
These changes come at a cost, and the strain on nonprofits is visible. Nonprofit staff feel the mental anguish from client situations, they struggle to provide all the services clients need, and are challenged to deliver robust services in a much less relational way and often delivered virtually.
I’m incredibly proud to work with the agencies we fund. Despite these challenges, we find that our nonprofits are being flexible and creative in their response to the COVID-19 crisis. Nonprofits are demonstrating remarkable flexibility and adaptability during these extraordinary times. This flexibility includes reimagining how services are provided with minimal time and resources, forming new partnerships with other organizations and local governments to maximize resources, reconsidering their organizational priorities, and adding new programs to meet emerging needs.
Editor’s Note: This is a story in our continuing series highlighting organizations that receive funding from the City of Burien Human Services Fund.