Let’s keep talking about what matters most


Last year the social service providers of Vashon had the opportunity to sponsor a community forum with our state legislators — Reps. Sharon Nelson and Eileen Cody and Sen. Joe McDermott.

We met with them, as a community, to discuss the difficult economic times we all face and its effect on the social service safety net we provide for Islanders. Our dedicated legislators explained they would support us any way that they could, but as they correctly explained, there just is not the money out there to take care of all the need. What we promised was a commitment by the social service providers to work together to better understand the needs of the community and ways we might work together to become stronger.

I know you and I have heard statements like this many times. Often the words amount to not much more than a “let’s do coffee” and then day-to-day business issues and our lives fill the time.

In this case, though, Vashon HouseHold, Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS), Vashon Community Care, the Interfaith Council on Homelessness, the Vashon Senior Center and the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank did meet for that “first coffee” in October 2009 and have continually met over the past year.

What unfolded has been a truly amazing journey. Executives and agency board members worked intently on understanding each other and the work everyone does. We moved from a place of tentative discussions to fully engaging to identify community needs without the usual defending of our organization’s “territory.”

For example, this past year Vashon HouseHold and VYFS fully partnered in providing full housing and services for homeless people at the newly developed Mukai apartments. People aren’t just provided a key to an apartment; they receive follow-up services to help them stay in their housing.

Too often, people cycle in and out of homelessness because financial or health-related issues aren’t dealt with properly. Vashon HouseHold and VYFS are working to make sure these issues don’t result in someone experiencing yet another failed attempt in keeping housing.

This ability to look past what we have always done to taking risks for envisioning new partnerships and programs has been inspiring for me and I know for all my partners in the social service community.

Our work this past year can and will benefit our community in the future, but we need your help to further guide our work. We cordially invite you to our second annual meeting this Friday, Aug. 6, where we will discuss our general work from the past year but will focus on the housing needs in our community. We chose this topic because, quite simply, a place to call home is a necessary foundation before any of us can create that better life for ourselves and our children. Your view of who is not getting a chance to have that home will guide us in our actions, because community support is crucial in these times of sparse dollars.

Communities that advocate together create opportunities even in these difficult times. We look forward to seeing you there.

—Chris Szala is the executive director of Vashon HouseHold, an organization that builds and manages affordable housing.

The forum on housing will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 6, at Vashon Community Care. All Islanders are welcome. The state’s three lawmakers — Reps. Sharon Nelson, Eileen Cody and Sen. Joe McDermott — plan to attend.