ARLINGTON – On a recent visit to the Arlington Community Resource Center, a homeless man sat alone quietly at a kitchen island, enjoying a snack before heading out into the day.
Other than the largely barren main room in the center, that’s about the only sign of a change since Volunteers of America Western Washington came on board Feb. 10 to keep the center running as a one-stop resource hub for the homeless and families in crisis in north Snohomish County.
That was by design, said Lynsey Gagnon, executive director of family support centers for VOAWW.
“First and foremost, we wanted to make sure there was as seamless a transition as possible,” Gagnon said. “Having clients see familiar faces and the same environment and culture was hugely important to us.”
That means the friendly faces who have greeted people in need over the past five years while the center was operated by Lutheran Community Services before it opted out for financial reasons, are still there.
“I’m so grateful that VOA stepped in and saved the center because we do amazing work,” site director Peggy Ray said. “To see it go away would have been devastating.”
Ray put her blood, sweat and tears into the center. “It’s more than just a job,” she said.
Gagnon said the center had so much going for it, that agreeing to become the umbrella organization for the center was a no-brainer.
“They have a welcoming environment for clients,” she said. “They’re all trauma-informed and trained, which is really huge in dealing with the population that we serve. They really check all the boxes.”
The center at 18308 Smokey Point Blvd. offers community assistance with utilities, rentals, job searches, resume building, emergency food and temporary housing, access to counseling and mental health services, and applying for government programs including ABD, EBT and TANF, public health, Social Security and other services. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Center staff also work closely with Arlington Fire and Police’s outreach team, and the city’s embedded social work program.
In 2019, staff at ACRC housed 77 families, including 93 adults and 70 children. They also assisted 60 other families in preventing losing their housing. Total participants served served last year across all programs totaled 7,571 last year.
Support specialist Doris Drohin said, “We’re very excited to keep moving forward, and that we get to stay here and keep helping others.”
For versatile support specialist Caroline Neal, working at the center is a legacy of sorts. She has had a personal connection with the center from the time it opened.
Neal’s father, Steve, was among the 43 people who lost their lives in the 2014 Oso landslide. Since then, she has spent the last five year making a difference offering help and services to other who are traumatized or destitute.
“There are a lot of people in need, and having a place to go is so important,” Neal said. “It’s important for people to know that we’re here. We haven’t gone away, and we will continue helping people to keep getting the help that they have been getting.”
Neal’s other gift to the center is a “tree of life” mural that she painted on an office wall to honor those who died in the Oso slide, with “community” and “family” as the base and foundation from which support, healing and resiliency grow.
VOAWW has been on the frontline providing basic needs, through their dispute resolution center, food banks, facility services and behavioral health, so the family support model at the center is a perfect fit, said Gagnon, who has been directing the Sky Valley Integrated Service Center, a center in Sultan that serves east Monroe out to Skykomish.
Dave Merrow is one of several people who discovered Arlington’s resource center when he was and out on the streets and homeless.
That was a year ago.
Now he volunteers at the center.
“From a former client perspective, this is a safe place to come,” Merrow said. “You know that you’re not going to be judged, you’re going to be taken care of. And when you walk out, you know you’re going to have a direction path if you want to follow it.”
His own path is leading him toward a career as a peer support specialist, and everyone at the center is there to back him in that endeavor. Within the next three weeks, his current volunteer position will become a paid internship through the state’s Worksource program, through an agreement with VOAWW and the center.
“I want to help people that are ultimately experiencing homelessness, and show them that if families and individual put the effort in, they will get where they want to go,” Merrow said.
Ray and Gagnon said when Lutheran Community Services left, the nonprofit took many of their office items and supplies to use elsewhere in their charitable work. That has left the Arlington center short on many items around the office since the transition that are used to support clients. They are asking for the community to help out.
How you can help the resource center
• Office supplies
• Birthday re-engagement program supplies – small gifts, party bag, cake mix, frosting, balloons, plates that specialist use to check in and celebrate with clients and their families to see how they’re doing.
• Food pantry items, such as frozen burritos and corn dogs, cup o’ noodles and other microwaveable, easy-to-heat foods.
• Clothing – jackets, socks, hand warmers
• Paper plates, paper towels, toiletries, toilet paper
• Office chairs, also plastic chairs that are easy to clean
• Coffee, cases of water
• You can also make a donation at voaww.org and direct your gift to “Arlington Community Resource Center” or call 360-9103 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.