It’s obvious when you drive through Seattle: The city’s homeless population is exploding.
Although the growing problem is a little harder to spot in the suburbs, it’s there just the same.
Take the Snoqualmie Valley in East King County. With a championship-level golf course and million dollar views, it’s home to tech executives with higher than average salaries living in homes that many middle-income families could never afford.
But, the explosion of the housing market here isn’t good news for everyone.
Heidi Dukich, executive director of the Snoqualmie Valley Food Bank, said many of their clients are long-time valley residents who have been priced out of their homes. With very little affordable housing in the community, they find themselves with few options.
“When a client first takes a step into the food bank, that’s a humbling experience,” said Dukich. “The bigger picture is offering more than just food. We’re offering hope. We’re offering guidance.”
Most of their clients wouldn’t fit into the traditional image of homelessness. Many are living in cars or couch surfing in the homes of friends and neighbors.
While the kindness of the tight-knit community keeps many people from living on the streets, it also hides much of the problem from public view.
Dukich said the food bank is working hard to identify these individuals and families so they can offer help before they wind up on the street.
In addition to food, they host representatives from the state who can offer housing vouchers and food stamps. They work with substance abuse and mental-health counselors. And, they try to connect folks with jobs and affordable housing.
The red-hot housing market is making it tough for even working parents to make ends meet. Dukich recalled one couple who had recently lost their home and were living in their car. They both had full-time jobs but had to send their daughter to live with family members until they could find stable housing.
“They’re trying to save money to find an apartment, but it’s hard to find,” Dukich explained. “So, they’re spending the money that they would be saving for an apartment by staying in a hotel sometimes.”
Nearly a third of the clients at the Snoqualmie Valley Food Bank are children. About a quarter are seniors. That includes a recently widowed woman who didn’t know if she would even qualify for help. She was visibly relieved when Dukich assured her that she would be receiving food that day.
“She had said, ‘I was so worried last night, I spent all night wondering if I should eat my apple tonight or save it for tomorrow,'” Dukich reflected.
The food bank offers special shopping days for seniors. They also offer a special summer lunch program for families with children. And, they partner with the local YMCA and the King County Library to host fitness and literacy events.
In Dukich’s 10 years with the food bank, they’ve gone from serving about 100 households to serving over 1,000.
When things get really dire, she said many clients may find themselves winding up in the big city to be closer to the resources they need.
Dukich says they are working with local city leaders to get more affordable housing in these more affluent, suburban communities.
In the meantime, they will continue relying on the support of local businesses and service groups.
In June, the Snoqualmie Rotary will be hosting a tournament on that golf course to benefit the food bank.