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Wellspring Family Services Is On a Mission to End Family Homelessness

Support services and prevention are key to helping families maintain stability

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: October 05, 2023

Little girl smiling and climbing on a play structure

Editor’s note: This article was sponsored by the Gates Foundation Discovery Center.

It’s no secret that there is a housing crisis in Seattle. While much of the attention is given to public encampments, and the often chronically homeless adults who live there, an unseen population is also struggling with housing insecurity: families.

Local families are facing housing insecurity in staggering numbers. Approximately 1 in 20 children in Washington are experiencing homelessness. In King County, more than 16,800 babies, toddlers, children and youth experience homelessness each year. These figures feel shocking since many families experiencing housing insecurity try to remain out of the public eye, doing everything they can to keep their families housed and together, including sleeping in cars, doubling up with friends or family, or taking other measures to keep their children safe. This also leads to family homelessness being undercounted during events such as the Point in Time Count. The true number of families experiencing housing insecurity is much higher.

Families have unique needs, and for many an unexpected event or expense can be enough to tip them into housing insecurity. Job loss, medical expenses, car repair, an unexpected bill or even the arrival of a new child can be a cost that forces an impossible choice between essentials and rent payments.

The Seattle-based nonprofit Wellspring is working hard to support families facing housing insecurity, and is on a mission to end family homelessness for good. Their secret weapon: prevention.

Prevention is key

Wellspring Family Services has been helping individuals and families experiencing crisis since 1892. While their work has shifted over the years to meet the needs of the community, their focus on supporting families has always remained at the center of their work.

Wellspring works to prevent a housing crisis before it happens. Many programs focus on helping people exit homelessness, too few focus on preventing homelessness to begin with. The trauma of housing instability is lifelong and early intervention is key. Children who experience homelessness are much more likely to experience it again as adults.

“Mostly what I feel when I’m here is hopeful. And that’s not a feeling I get very often!" – Wellspring program participant

Prevention often takes the form of rental or utility assistance, to help a family meet those expenses directly. But prevention can also look like providing essentials such as diapers, clothing, books and toys so families can put their resources toward expenses that help keep them housed. It also may be covering the cost of a car repair, in order to keep a caregiver employed and a family housed.

Wellspring’s programs

Wellspring’s wrap-around services model is composed of three main family services:

Housing Services: The organization’s knowledgeable and compassionate housing stability specialists provide guidance and support to help families navigate a complex web of community resources. They help families access rental assistance, eviction prevention, provide classes focused on managing finances and working with landlords, and locate temporary emergency shelter or find affordable housing.

Early Learning Center (ELC): The ELC is Washington state’s only licensed early learning program providing specialized services to children experiencing homelessness. The program’s trauma-informed approach features a low teacher-to-student ratio, family support specialists, early childhood therapist, nutritious meals, weekly on-site health visits, and a no-expulsion policy. This program is available to families at no cost.

“Wellspring wants each family that turns to us for help to have the best social service experience of their lifetime.”
– Bevette Irvis, Chief Program Officer and Wellspring employee for 35 years

Family Store: The Family Store provides free clothing, diapers, books, toys and other essentials for children 0-17 years old. This allows families to put their financial resources towards expenses such as housing.

One program participant expressed their gratitude for, “the staffs’ kindness, generosity and access to needed supplies.” They said the Family Store helped them “feel like a good parent when I can count on Wellspring to provide the things I desperately needed for my children that I could not afford. The Wellspring [Family Store] had me covered like a baby swaddled in their mother’s arms … I give the Wellspring [Family Store] 10 stars, two thumbs up and the medal of honor.”

These services help provide families with the support and resources they need to stay housed and avoid the trauma of experiencing homelessness.

How to help

While the issue of housing insecurity is complex, there are many ways people can support families in the community who may be struggling. If you know of a specific family struggling with housing (or if you are in need of support), start by calling 211 to be connected with a specialist who will provide a list of referrals to available resources in the community.

Making a donation to Wellspring is another way to help prevent family homelessness. People who are interested can make a financial donation or can donate new or gently used items to the Family Store.

Volunteering time is another way to support Wellspring. Opportunities range from helping maintain the Family Store to providing administrative support to assisting with special projects. Details can be found online or reach out for more information.

Everyone has the right to safe, stable housing. Organizations like Wellspring Family Services are helping families find and maintain that sense of security and safety every day. One program participant expressed the value and impact of this work perfectly: "When I first stepped inside my new home — I couldn’t believe it! I fell to the ground, so full of emotion … This is unbelievable — I don’t need anything else."

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