City moves ahead on one-stop shop for human services

Auburn to negotiate terms of a lease of the former tavern space to support proposed ‘hub’

Mayor Nancy Backus. City file photo

Mayor Nancy Backus. City file photo

Until that moment, it had been business as usual for the Auburn City Council on Tuesday night, the twice-a-month routine of resolutions passed and proclamations proclaimed.

But then Resolution 5453, authorizing Auburn’s mayor to negotiate the terms of a lease of the former Sports Page Tavern space at 2802 Auburn Way N., came up for a vote, and ….

“It passes!” Nancy Backus declared, clearly elated.

Backus’ reaction told of the depth of feeling and the many years that lay behind landing an honest-to-goodness, three-dimensional, 23,000-square-foot, brick-and-mortar building to house the hitherto-only-dreamed-of, one-stop shop for human services in Auburn. The multi-purpose center is where disadvantaged people will access the community, social and human services they need without having to bounce from place to place.

Choked up, Backus thanked the people in the room, among them Auburn Food Bank Director Debbie Christian, who through two city administrations, several turnovers of council members and some heartbreaks, held on with a bulldog grip and would not let go.

‘Thank you for your courage, your tenacity to make this Auburn Resource Center the reality that we have needed in this community for so very long,” Backus said. “You have stuck with us. For those of you in the audience that volunteer or work at the Auburn Food Bank or the Ray of Hope or the Sundown, or those of you that utilize the services that are there – not take advantage of, utilize – I want to thank you for sticking with us as well and for believing that this day would become a reality. We can now do what we know is the right thing in this community because everyone who is here is one of us.

“… This has not been an easy road, but with all your help and your belief in this, we are going to make this happen, and it is going to be a center that we can all be proud of,” Backus said.

“I don’t even know how to breathe right now, I’m so excited, this is amazing. I am so proud,” Christian said after the meeting.

The City Council approved $500,000 a year for the project in its current biennial budget, and has spent just under $120,000 of that budget in 2019. It expects to use some of those funds to help secure the lease of the building for 2019 and 2020. Other sources of funding will be sought via tenant rent, other public funding sources, philanthropy and private funding.

A strong selling point for the city was the site’s proximity to DSHS, WorkSource, Sound Mental Health, We Care Day Clinic, and Valley Cities, not to mention the Metro bus stop at the site. The potential is also there to expand the center into some of the empty, adjacent empty storefronts.

Auburn’s vision for the facility includes the following:

• Relocating the day center on I Street NE;

• Moving the night shelter and bumping up its capacity from 30 beds to approximately 65 beds, with the added benefit of further expanding during bad weather;

• Providing a space for King County to fulfill its goal of establishing a once-a-week Community Court in Auburn;

• Providing space for 20 or more service providers to be present and available when court is in session – that is, addiction resources, housing placement, mental health providers, employment services and more.

And when court is not in session, provide classroom, educational and meeting spaces and room for service providers to have temporary space on a regularly recurring schedule;

• Providing a space for emergency food services and to enhance opportunities to make healthier food options more available; and

• Providing ongoing space to a handful of community, social and/or human service providers that advances the mission of the hub and the individuals and families that rely upon those services.

Earlier this year, Valley Cities notified city staff that the city would have to move the Sundown night shelter on Valley’s property because of Valley’s own plans.

And when the city moved the overnight shelter back to the building at Veterans Memorial Park – the Day Shelter is still at Valley Cities – Backus asked staff to take a new look at available property and buildings.

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