If you have a well-stocked pantry and you’re able to work from home right now, you are in very good shape to stay safe from the virus. Thousands of people in the Seattle area who may not have homes or may not have stable employment cannot necessarily say the same. I work for Millionair Club Charity, a nonprofit staffing agency that serves people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and our hundreds of workers find themselves in a precarious situation.
The majority of workers on our payroll, over 60 percent of whom self-identity as unstably housed, rely on wages to survive. For some, the pay helps maintain rent and feed their families. For others, the money is their ticket to escaping homelessness and finding stability in their lives. With the state-ordered ban on non-essential workplaces, most of our workers’ job opportunities have vanished, along with a way out of poverty.
While many of us are scrambling for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the people we serve may be staring down a return to living outside or being stuck in crowded shelters where they can’t reasonably protect themselves. This isn’t just some temporary scare or a hit to a retirement fund; this pandemic could be life or death for otherwise healthy people. Based on hundreds of conversations and surveys, we know that once a person loses their home, it becomes harder to avoid things like depression, addiction and loss of dignity. The longer people experience homelessness, the more difficult it is to escape.
One Millionair Club Charity worker, Sabrina, has already been laid off since her employer did not have enough customers to stay open. Sabrina lives in Millionair Club Charity’s apartment building, Kasota, and she’s now concerned about being able to maintain rent moving forward. She says she’s trying to file her taxes and claim unemployment benefits, but the websites are overwhelmed and she can’t get through.
“I feel like I’m in a crunch and just so frustrated,” Sabrina told me. “My gravest fear is becoming homeless. I’m trying to stay hopeful, but with the claims site not working, I just don’t know what to do.” She says that the opportunity to have an apartment at Kasota has been a godsend, and she is hoping that rent will be reduced until we know when this will all end.
Normally, Millionair Club Charity provides a wide range of services to help people become ready for work. That includes a hygiene center, laundry facility, job training workshops and uniforms (for no charge). We also work with partners to provide meals, a vision clinic and mobile medical and dental vans. Once a person is enrolled, we connect them with appropriate job opportunities in our network of over 700 local employers. That includes everything from food prep and hospitality at Seahawks and Mariners games to landscaping, warehouse work, housekeeping, moving help and more.
In this trying time, we have not simply shut our doors and gone home. We are vigilantly reshaping our commitment to offering daily care to hundreds of people for needs spanning hygiene services and income. To protect our workers and staff, we have reduced work opportunities to a few employers who have strict safety protocols and whose operations are essential. We also had to suspend our job trainings, which is a major loss because some of the courses lead to professional certifications for livable-wage jobs.
Many people in the Puget Sound area endure homelessness and unstable housing, and they are now more vulnerable than ever. This virus could easily cause the homeless crisis to balloon out of control, regressing or ending our work against it.
Like everyone else, we are determined to make it through and recover with the help of our fellow community members. Maybe now more than ever, our society can appreciate the fear and loss of control that homeless people face every day.
Everyone is making difficult decisions now, and many people are experiencing significant financial loss as our workplaces close. We all must do our part to stay healthy and support those in need. Many have stepped up and made significant contributions already, but the need is still great. If you would like to help Millionair Club Charity get aid and resources to the people we serve, please consider donating at MillionairClub.org/Donate.
Patrick is writing on behalf of Millionair Club Charity, for which he is the marketing and communications director.
Read more in the Apr. 8-14, 2020 issue.