City agrees we need a human services campus, but ponders the ‘who’ and the ‘where’

Just what the future of health care in the United States will look like is a concept very much in flux at the moment, with legislators at the federal level currently considering bills which the Obama White House hopes will improve what is regarded as one of the worst systems among developed nations.

Just what the future of health care in the United States will look like is a concept very much in flux at the moment, with legislators at the federal level currently considering bills which the Obama White House hopes will improve what is regarded as one of the worst systems among developed nations.

There is a consensus that the health care system needs fixing, but little agreement on the best options, even within the political parties.

The City of Issaquah is one step closer to changing the health care landscape in this city after the Council Services and Operations Committee decided on July 16 that the full council would consider a partnership with the Family Resource Center (FRC) in Redmond to investigate the possibility of a similar center here in Issaquah.

The FRC is home to a range of health and human service organizations, such as Child Care Resources, HealthPoint Medical and Dental Clinics, Sound Mental Health and Youth Eastside Services, and serves families from Covington to Bothell and Bellevue to Carnation.

These groups lease space in the building at below-market rates.

The purpose of the campus is to improve access to such services, typically for low-income families, and help the agencies connect with those who need them by allowing them to share resources, and collaborate on volunteer recruitment efforts and educational programs.

There is currently no such human service campus in Issaquah and Sammamish, and the resources of the FRC in Redmond are stretched in coping with clients from all over the Eastside.

The partnership proposal currently making the rounds of the Issaquah City Council and a number of committees, AB 5959, would see the city contribute $20,000 to a feasibility study, to be authored by the FRC.

The study would determine where such a center should go, and whether there were any properties currently owned by the city that would be appropriate.

The study would also assist the city in planning for such a campus, as well as the necessary legal assistance.

Proposal gets bumped around committees

At the July 16 services and operations committee meeting, councilmembers Joshua Schaer and John Rittenhouse recommended the bill be voted on by the full council in August.

Councilmember and chair of the committee Eileen Barber abstained from the vote, asking that more information be provided.

At an April 16 meeting of the committee, Barber acknowledged the need for such a facility, but suggested the agreement be written to include oversight by Issaquah and to better identify services provided by the $20,000 city expenditure.

Though the passage of the bill through the city has been a difficult process, bouncing back and forth between full council meetings to the Human Services Commission and now to the services and operations committee, according to the Executive Director of the Family Resource Center Pam Mauk there is a great deal of support for a human services campus in Issaquah.

Like health care reform on a national level, the question is how best to proceed.

“The city has been receptive,” she said. “To a person, on the council, they like the idea of a human services campus.”

Three years ago a group made up of nonprofit, business, government, and volunteer leaders began exploring the feasibility of a human services campus in Issaquah, and conducted a community needs assessment.

In Winter of 2009, the findings of a key informant survey were released, the general message of which was that a central human services facility was needed, and that services such as emergency shelters and transitional housing, special needs housing, dropout prevention and youth development, domestic violence services, and basic health care provision were all major problems that the city had to address.

In an introduction to the survey findings, co-chairs Margaret Moore and John Rittenhouse wrote that “the elected officials and citizens of Issaquah recognize that community members in need of human services will be more effectively served through a unified campus that houses multiple agencies, rather than going to individual sites scattered throughout the region.”

According to the survey, one public official said, “Issaquah has a homeless problem.”

A local police officer expressed concern for the transients and the homeless, as well as those living paycheck to paycheck who need a meal.

“Most people we see are down on their luck and don’t fit into a neat package,” the officer said. “They are the hardest to solve.”

Who and where

According to Schaer, in July the committee considered whether or not FRC was in the best position to offer its expertise for the study.

“Questions were also raised concerning the neutrality of those authoring a study, insofar as not binding the city to any particular course of action,” Schaer told The Reporter recently.

Councilmember Rittenhouse said that the council had identified the provision of a human services campus as one of its top goals, and that “the city is fully on board with the need for a service like this.”

“The timelines will be driven by when a property becomes available,” he said. “My understanding is that the city facilities are all presently utilized. If a white knight comes out, then that would shorten the timeline. We need to cross our fingers and hope for something serendipitous. My own personal feeling is that this is a good time to consider property that we otherwise mightn’t be able to afford.”

The $20,000 for the study has already been earmarked from the mitigation funds for the Talus development, and so would not come out of the general fund.

Mauk said this week that the council and the services and operations committee were eager to ensure that there was some outside perspective on the study, and that there was some concern that the FRC would make a recommendation that would benefit the FRC.

“The goal of a feasibility study would be to inform my board of directors as well,” she said. “We are all involved in the provision of services like these – we don’t have that bias necessarily. It is just something which is of great interest to all of us – it is our mission.”

Whoever conducts the feasibility study will benefit from a number of studies already completed, including one put together for the FRC by the Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington which identified what sort of property would be suitable for a human services campus, considering not just size but also location, proximity to public transportation, and market values.

A more thorough study will also investigate the ownership and management options for the campus.

Mauk said that although there was currently no interest from the city in such a proposal, the option of a city owned facility was one that would be studied, as well as various levels of contracting through a central agency such as the FRC