Auburn plans center for veterans, human services

Michael Hursh - Rachel Ciampi/Auburn Reporter
Michael Hursh
— image credit: Rachel Ciampi/Auburn Reporter

In partnership with Auburn Youth Resources and other social service agencies in Auburn that receive funds from the City every year, the City plans to build a roughly 33,000-square-foot, combined one-stop Veterans and Human Services Center northwest of Les Gove Park.

Besides human services, the project, many years in the dreaming and planning stages, will serve local veterans and their families. The City of Auburn, which lies within the service area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, is home to one of South King County's largest veteran populations.

City officials say the center, whose anchor tenants include the Auburn Food Bank and AYR, will also take advantage of the services of the nearby Valley Medical Center-University of Washington urgent care facility.

Construction, on property not yet disclosed, is expected to cost between $6 and $7 million.

To date, the project has received about two thirds of the commitment toward its total funding, which is all non-general-fund money, in other words, grants and capital grants for construction. Tenants would be in part responsible for the ongoing operation.

"When funding is there, we are ready to go," said Michael Hursh, human services manager for the City of Auburn. "We are at the same point, quite frankly, that we are with the Auburn Community Center. That is, we have a funding gap, and we are looking to find the missing dollars to make sure this is in place for the good of our community, not only right now but in the future.

"...This is one of those projects that Auburn residents will look at 20 years from now and see only the community benefits of the investments made at this juncture. It is really important," Hursh said.

Auburn has historically faced income disparity and population diversity that have compelled City officials to work toward providing a quality of life consistent, equitable and fair for all residents, regardless of their social, economic or ethnic background, Hursh said.

This project, Hursh said, has been tailored to underpin that work with resources, professional services and activities aimed at providing a social setting and environment where everybody can realize and enjoy that quality of life.

Census track data show Auburn having one of the highest densities of single-parent households in South King County, and the Auburn School District has one of the highest percentages of free and reduced lunches.

The upshot is that today a single mother without a vehicle but needing to access services appropriate for the child care, recreation, social services, employment and skills training needs of her family, has to hop a minimum of three buses to get from the north end of the City to the south end to access all of the non profits that could help her.

One-stop center for key services

The new center, Hursh said, would provide that single mother with an opportunity to access all services in a managed, professional caring way in one location.

Same for the veterans population.

"We honor them, we recognize them, we are thankful for the work of the American Legion and the VFW," Hursh said. "The question has been how can we bring some permanence to their place in our community. One of the ways we can do that, and one of the ways that is not now realized in south King North Pierce counties is a center where the service needs of veterans is met in a single facility.

"For example, many of the human service agencies that presently serve our at-risk and vulnerable population are the same agencies that are serving veterans," Hursh said. "Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation has provided a housing project that is in part dedicated to veterans. They work toward mental stability, and in the past they have worked toward drug- and alcohol-addiction issues.

"Those services have so much interplay with the human agencies that the City supports that we have made a very intentional decision to marry the project in its scope so that we could both meet the needs of veterans and their families and also those vulnerable and at-risk population within our existing borders," Hursh said.

In addition, the project falls within the area of the proposed Les Gove Community campus, which extends out from the park to encompass some of the neighborhoods north and west.

Members of a council committee, who have worked to address some of the burgeoning development issues in that area, note that the one-stop center would bring the total investment within the last 10 to 15 years there to $100 million.

A list of these projects, many financed by grants and other monies outside the City's general fund, is as follows:

1. The $22 million M Street project

2. The $10 million King County Housing Authority's renovations to Green River Homes and Valley Park.

3. A $3 million Save our Streets (SOS) investment completed in a neighborhood north of the park three years ago

3. The $6 million King County Library renovation

4. The $4.5 million Auburn Activities Center

5. The Discovery Barrier Free Playground

On the to-do list — the $10 million Auburn Community Center south of Les Gove Park on the site of the old Auburn YMCA.

"Auburn is looking at all this investment as the single largest, and most densified investment in City History. It's dense in the sense that Auburn has not had a single development with so much intentional resources going into such a defined and confined area in such a small amount of time," Hursh said.

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