by Elizabeth Turnbull
A free, multi-service resource center hosted by Renton Innovation Zone Partnership will be stationed at 12643 Renton Ave. S.on Sept. 4, Sept. 18, and three dates in October, to provide Skyway residents with housing assistance, school supplies, and food resources, among other things.
“The first positive outcome of this is that the community gets to use the resources they’ve been asking for,” said Cherryl Jackson-Williams, Family & Community Engagement Coordinator for the Renton Innovation Zone/ Renton School District. The second? “That they also feel that we’ve taken their requests seriously.”
The pop-up, which will run from 4 to 7 p.m., might somewhat resemble a farmers’ market, but instead of food vendors, visitors can find free supplies like diapers, books, and personal protective equipment (PPE). There will also be information about obtaining housing and rent assistance, access to behavioral health resources, and help getting food through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
The RIZ Partnership aims to improve racial equity and educational opportunities in the Renton Innovation Zone, a neighborhood that includes over 5,000 school-aged children from diverse backgrounds. While similar services are available in Renton and Rainier Beach, executive director Ryan Quigtar said that the pop-up aims to provide needed resources to members of the Skyway community and to prevent unnecessary exposure for community members when taking public transportation to surrounding areas.
“We wanted to bring something here, to our neighborhood,” Quigtar said. “I’m really excited to see community members coming out and just really being able to take advantage of the services coming to them.”
Talks of building a brick-and-mortar Skyway community center have been ongoing for many years, but the idea for the pop-up has been in the works since last fall as a way to provide essentials to the community in the meantime. If all goes well, the plan is to continue the pop-up beyond October, to make sure community needs are still met.
For Skyway residents, accessing resources has been an issue of perpetual difficulty. The urban unincorporated community, located just north of Renton and just south of Seattle, technically doesn’t belong to any neighboring cities. This leaves King County to fill in for the lack of a local government, which it has done reluctantly. Such a situation makes it difficult for one of the most diverse communities in King County to thrive.
The majority of the population in the Skyway-West Hill area are people of color; the area also has one of the highest proportions of African American residents in Washington state. And for many residents, accessing resources is truly important. The median household income is more than 20 percent lower than the countywide median.In 2017, roughly 15.5 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who represents Skyway, published an op-ed on Sept. 3, calling on the county to build serious investments in the Skyway community as a substantive way of contributing to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the article, Zahilay, who spent part of his childhood residing in Skyway, criticized King County for withholding support from the area, a behavior he called out as racist.
“Intentionally disinvesting from the neighborhood that is home to the highest proportion of Black people is a textbook case of systemic racism,” Zahilay said. “King County and Washington legislators should come together, regardless of district boundaries, and bring justice to the community with the highest proportion of African Americans in the state.“
In the meantime, efforts like the pop-up can help fill in the gaps. “We often find with our Skyway residents that they’re kind of the last ones to hear about a resource, so when they come to the table to access it, the services or the resources are no longer there,” Jackson-Williams said. “I think this is the first step to meeting the needs of the community.”
Ultimately, Quigtar hopes that once community members start utilizing the pop-up, it will show the county just how vital a community center would be, and that real, long-term investment in Skyway is a tangible need.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist
Featured image: Volunteers help out at the Skyway Food Distribution Center on Aug 22. (Photo by Marcus Green)