Whether it’s giving rides to vaccine centers or providing an air-conditioned place to rest during a relentless heatwave, Angel Resource Connection (ARC) is bringing help and hope to Snohomish County residents who are struggling with housing instability. ARC was awarded a 15-passenger van in 2020 through Community Transit’s Van GO program, and the vehicle has quickly become a vital tool in the services they provide.
Vans reaching the end of their service life with Community Transit’s Vanpool shared commute program can get a second chance to make a difference in the community by being awarded to local nonprofit organizations. Community Transit’s Van GO competitive grant program launched in 2000 and has since awarded 158 vans and wheelchair lift-equipped paratransit vehicles to qualified 501(c)3 organizations throughout Snohomish County.
“ARC’s mission is to help people who are homeless get into housing. It can take years for someone to get into a home — it is not an easy or quick process. We show up to help them,” says ARC CEO Penelope Protheroe.
“The van has changed everything about how mobile our nonprofit can be for the homeless people we serve. Before this, we were not able to drive anyone anywhere.”
Now, says Protheroe, they are better able to provide wraparound services for people. “Instead of continuing to give people clothes, now we can take them to the laundromat so they can reuse the clothes we gave them,” she says.
As we chat on the phone, Protheroe is riding in the van with a gentleman and his pet dog, Bella. “We have been helping him secure housing, and now we’re just leaving a vet appointment for Bella,” she says. “She’s such a sweet pup!”
Bella is just one of many who have been helped by the services ARC provides.
“Throughout the year, we take people to get the services they need — to the Department of Social and Health Services, to appointments for getting their IDs and SNAP cards, to get hot meals, and more.
In extreme weather, the van helps people find safety and shelter. “During the winter, we take people to cold weather shelters for the night. During the recent record-breaking heatwave, we used our passenger van as a mobile cooling space, giving rides to cooling shelters and offering cold drinks, Gatorade and water — plus popsicles,” says Protheroe.
“Before the van, we provided ORCA cards or a bus pass to help people get where they needed to go,” says Protheroe. “But that is still challenging. People have to haul all of their belongings with them on a bus. If they leave their belongings behind, sometimes their things get stolen. With the van, they can load their stuff and bring their pets. It just makes it easier.”
Throughout the pandemic, the van has been instrumental in helping them provide services while navigating new barriers.
“The pandemic has been extremely hard for people struggling with homelessness,” she says. “Thankfully, you can social distance in a 15-passenger van. There is plenty of room.”
And, as coffee shops and other meeting spaces were shuttered during lockdowns, the van became more than just a way to provide rides. “It served as a mobile office for us. We could help people when it was pouring rain outside and there was nowhere to go because everything was closed due to the pandemic. When places like DSHS began requiring appointments and phone calls to schedule those appointments, we could help people get there and make those calls from our van,“ she says.
“It’s challenging, as a nonprofit, to navigate these things,” says Protheroe. “People can get stuck in a cycle of chronic homelessness. The van has helped us take our service to the next level and has helped us get people to the next step.”
Community Transit plans to grant more vehicles to local nonprofit organizations later this year. Do you know of a local organization doing important work in our community? Share this opportunity with them so they can apply when we begin taking applications: visit communitytransit.org/vango to learn more.