The Seattle City Council will hold another public meeting Tuesday evening to discuss next year’s proposed budget, which includes cuts to many city programs, including the closure of the Northwest Neighborhood Service Center in Greenwood.
Under Mayor Mike McGinn’s budget proposal, six of the city’s non-payment Neighborhood Service Centers, and the West Seattle payment and information center, would close; six payment Neighborhood Service Centers will remain open (the closest to us would be Ballard).
Beth Pflug is the Northwest Neighborhood Service Center’s coordinator. While she said she understands the need for cuts in the current economic climate, she’s afraid that many of the cuts are falling disproportionately on the under-served. While many people who are connected electronically or socially to the community may not notice if the NSC closes, it’s the people without access to computers or social service programs that will be affected the most.
“Initially, these neighborhood service centers were opened up to provide access for people who didn’t really have access to government,” Pflug explained. “Sometimes it’s just to sort of explain the complexities of certain things. It’s more of that person-to-person connection.”
Neighborhood Service Centers help citizens’ groups organize, and get people hooked up to services such as a food bank. The center provided 2,500 requests for such services last year. The NSC also has public access computers. The King County Bar Association also runs a free weekly legal clinic at the Greenwood NSC. Pflug says the legal clinic takes over the entire NSC space, including four private offices, providing free legal advice to an average of more than 90 clients each month.
While most of the information that the NSC provides is available on the Internet, the NSC primarily serves people without Internet access. Homeless people come in to use the computers to look for jobs and to get forms for government services. “The already disenfranchised will be even more disenfranchised,” if it closes, Pflug said.
And she’s worried about the effect the closure of the NSC will have on the greater Greenwood community.
“We’ve been able to set a lot of things in motion out of this office. There’s a certain central connecting function that may be gone,” she said. “There are days when I am talking to a community person from the Broadview neighborhood and a community person from Green Lake or Licton Springs and find that they have a similar interest… and link them up. It has a kind of incubating function that isn’t very easily measured.”
At last week’s Greenwood Community Council meeting, GCC President Trevor Stanley said the NSC was a great asset to the community.
“My bias is automatically one of trying to keep it open if that’s at all possible,” Stanley said. “I would urge people to write the city council, show up for the meetings, let them know that we need it, we use it. We don’t have a community center here…so it is a great asset.”
The final public hearing on the city’s proposed budget is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue, Council Chambers, 2nd floor. Sign-in starts at 5 p.m.