News

Agencies respond to homeless in region

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

People living day-to-day, without the luxury of a roof over their heads and uncertain where their next meal might come from, are found only in urban centers, far from the friendly confines of the Plateau.

Right?

Wrong.

While statistics are constantly being gathered in King County's high-population neighborhoods, the problem of homelessness is felt daily in Enumclaw by those working in the social services.

Kimberly Fish is one of those in the trenches, dedicating hours to helping those who are struggling find a warm place to sleep and in need of a warm meal or two. Fish is in charge of Plateau Outreach Ministries, a program sponsored largely by local churches.

“There seems to be a little bit of an increase,” she said, confirming a belief that the Plateau's homeless population is growing, not shrinking.

The biggest problem locally, Fish said, is a rather limited number of affordable housing options. It's tough for someone to come up with the required sum to get into an apartment - generally the first and last month's rent, plus a deposit.

The hardest hit, Fish said, are those who “don't have a way of increasing their income.” By that, she's referring to those on fixed incomes, like the elderly or people getting by on a disability paycheck.

There is an inventory of low-income housing, where the monthly rent is based on a person's income, “but there's a long waiting list,” Fish said.

And a couple of local motels offer rooms at discounted rates when people are placed through agencies, but those are a short-term fix.

Any type of shelter situation, where people can find emergency housing for 30 to 90 days, requires people to leave the Enumclaw area - to travel at least as far as Auburn.

Fish acknowledges that some of those who find themselves homeless suffer from poor choices like addiction. But, she said, “we're also seeing people who are very dependable.” A more recent trend among the homeless are the working poor, individuals or couples who hold steady jobs but simply can't keep up with rent or mortgage payments.

Recent difficulties in the mortgage industry have exacerbated the problem, Fish said.

Homelessness is especially troubling when children are involved, she said.

“When there are little ones without a roof over their heads, we'll do about anything we can,” Fish said.

That means diving into a long list of resources available to Plateau Outreach Ministries, she explained. There are organizations as close as the Black Diamond Community Center and as far as Seattle that might provide money for short-term lodging.

“We try to keep updated on as many resources as possible,” Fish said, noting that an outside agency recently paid for a five-night motel stay for a homeless Enumclaw mom and her three children.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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