Essential Work, Essential Workers

Participants in our “Essential Work, Essential Workers” roundtable. We gathered in the lobby of The North Star, beautiful new supportive housing in Seattle’s Bitter Lake neighborhood, now home to 100 residents.

A Conversation with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal & Representative Nicole Macri

Outside, the rain poured down. Inside the airy lobby of a beautiful new apartment building, essential workers in housing and homeless services talked with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal about their experiences helping people get home, and stay in their homes. We hosted this event last week while construction crews put finishing touches on The North Star: new homes and services for 100 people created by DESC (key funding from King County’s Health through Housing Initiative, which we proudly worked to pass). Coalition staff brought a modest addition as teams got each apartment ready for residents  to move in four days later ~ a personal welcome note, a voter registration form, and a box of tea.

Frontline workers spoke movingly about working with youth, families, and adults in shelter, rapid rehousing, and supportive housing at different agencies. They shared ideas, hopes, and fears from co-workers and people they serve. Their stories made plain how the pandemic has exacerbated workforce issues that were already serious — years of suppressed wages and high staff turnover that affect quality and continuity of care — and now threaten our collective ability to sustain and scale up solutions. 

  • An experienced residential specialist, explained how a temporary “Pandemic Pay” boost meant for the first time in 20 years she could make rent and meet her household’s other needs without having to work multiple jobs.
  • Another worker choked up as she described asking her teenage son to set aside his schooling to earn money to help with family expenses, even as she worked full-time to help other parents and children secure housing.
  • Derrick Belgarde, Executive Director of the Chief Seattle Club, said his agency is recruiting months early to hire dozens of staff to support residents in two new buildings.
  • These people are the core of our community’s response to the crisis of homelessness, and at the heart of housing solutions that work. 
    But this center cannot hold when full-time workers in our community must earn a housing wage of $31.33 an hour to afford a modest, two bedroom apartment, far above the wages of most homeless services staff.   

We invite you to get in touch with us to be part of our Essential Work, Essential Workers campaign! We’d love to hear from staff across King County who want to help shape a better future.

This fall we will convene more member and partner roundtables so people can share stories and strategize together to advocate for what is essential. People who do this work should earn enough to live in the communities they serve, and meet their family’s needs without having to take second or third jobs. Budget writers at every level of government must commit to redress inadequate wages and benefits, and write contracts that keep up with soaring inflation. The current system perpetuates inequities and undermines our collective ability to provide decent homes and services at a scale that matches the need.