A grandmother and her grandson, a few scrappy-looking kids in black, and a wiry, animated guy named Ray wait in line at the Cascade People's Center for organic produce. Conversation shifts from the weather to Ray's secondhand truck to the South Lake Union Streetcar. On this rainy Sunday afternoon, there is a sense, as indescribable as it is undeniable, of community.
And it may not be around much longer.
The City of Seattle's Human Services Department recently announced its intention not to fund the Cascade People's Center, igniting a controversy that has spread beyond the borders of Seattle's rapidly changing Cascade neighborhood.
The People's Center, located at the corner of Pontius and Thomas, relies on City funding to provide everything from self-defense to summer camp to space for community potlucks. Losing the City's funding, said program manager Myla Becker, could mean the end for an organization that last year served nearly 4,000 people from a variety of socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.
"We're a place where those who are marginalized can have a voice," said Becker. "When you cut that funding, it sends a message."
The center has one of the region's strongest records for community outreach, often becoming a place for community members to organize and voice concerns -- as Becker put it in an email to the organization's partners, it is the neighborhood's "only free community gathering space."
The loss of funding has raised a few eyebrows: Does the city's decision boil down to an attempt to silence the critics of the rapid development of the South Lake Union area? Human Services Department director Patricia McInturff says no.
"Every four years, family service centers are asked to fill out an RFP [Request For Proposals]. It's a competitive process... [The Cascade People's Center] had a very strong application, but our panel of experts was unanimous in its decision not to recommend funding this year."
The panel, composed of three members from within McInturff's department and another three from the nonprofit community, chose from a field of nine family centers this year; seven were awarded grants of $250,000 based on performance in so-called "core services," including family literacy, information, referral, education and employment.
The city "funds programs, not agencies," says McInturff, and political advocacy and community building "were simply not in the criteria."
The center, which received nearly two-thirds of its cash donations from the city to live, you have been sleeping under plastic, and looking for things to eat in the rubbish bins. But you are tidy, clean shaven, open-minded, polite, and are capable of and want to work, and you don't drink alcohol. None at all. So, how would you perceive that?
The center, which received nearly two-thirds of its cash donations from the city last year, needs to raise at least $100,000 to operate at minimal capacity.
"We've been looking for other funding," says Janet St. Clair-Lazar, regional director of Lutheran Community Services, the Center's parent organization. "Measuring community is difficult at a time when funders want measurable outcomes... Some stakeholders have moved in other directions."
The People's Center has until Oct. 11 to file an appeal. On receipt of the appeal, the Department of Human Services has 10 days to make a final decision. Center members and volunteers met Monday night to determine a course of action.
"It's hard to explain how and why [the Cacade People's Center] is working," says Becker. "How could you measure people knowing one another?"