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With downturn in economy, Kent residents asking for help

Several homeless people, left, line up for a free dinner Oct. 9 at a private business on Railroad Avenue in downtown Kent. The privately funded dinners are offered every Thursday evening. - Charles Cortes/ Reporter
Several homeless people, left, line up for a free dinner Oct. 9 at a private business on Railroad Avenue in downtown Kent. The privately funded dinners are offered every Thursday evening.
— image credit: Charles Cortes/ Reporter

Residents continue to flood the city of Kent's Human Services division with calls for referrals to help pay for food, gas, rent and heat in a struggling economy.

More than 2,300 calls have come into the Human Services division during the first nine months of this year compared to 2,400 calls in the 12 months of 2007, said Katherin Johnson, city housing and human services manager, in a Oct. 21 report to the City Council.

"There's a need for help with rental assistance," Johnson said. "With the cost of food and gas up, people buy gas, food and pay for child care. But they have no money left for rent."

The city allocates 1 percent of its general fund each year to help fund human services programs. The city will pay $773,000 in 2008 and more than $800,000 in 2009 to the programs.

Among the nonprofit programs that receive funds from the city are Catholic Community Services, Community Health Centers, Communities in Schools, Domestic Violence Agency With Shelter (DAWN), Kent Food Bank, Kent Youth and Family Services, Multi-Service Center and Safe Havens.

Besides the increased demands because of the bad economy, proposed cuts in the 2009 King County budget to numerous human-service agencies will impact many programs that count on funds from cities and the county.

"Programs for domestic violence, child care, housing and others go to as many jurisdictions as possible because the money provides greater width and depth of service," Johnson said. "With more staff they can see more people. If you pull out one piece of the puzzle, they begin to collapse. With the King County budget and all of the expense concerns, they are pulling a piece of the puzzle away."

Johnson and her staff are studying the potential financial cuts by the county to see which agencies might be hit the hardest in Kent.

"We're trying to do an analysis of the critical needs for food, help with energy bills for heat and shelter," Johnson said. "It's a little early. We don't know everything that will happen."

Calls continue to increase to the city and local agencies.

The Kent Food Bank has 30 days of food in storage, but other food banks in five surrounding communities have had to conduct emergency food drives because warehouses are empty, Johnson said.

"We're working to partner with local churches to make sure food is available," Johnson said.

King County officials plan to lobby the Legislature next year in an effort to get funding for human services programs the county proposes to cut.

"If King County does not get saved by Olympia, the ramifications will be felt here in South King County," City Councilman Tim Clark said after hearing Johnson's report. "We will need to figure out how to deal with it because King County will walk away."

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