Family Resource Exchanges connect unsheltered families with services

More than 2,000 families are living in tents or cars on any given night in the Seattle area, according to the Seattle Human Services Department. Starbucks, along with United Way of King County, Mary’s Place, Wellspring Family Services and the University of Washington, are working to help to help change that.  

A year ago, the groups formed a coalition to support unsheltered families and individuals across the Puget Sound region. Since then,  the coalition has led eight Family Resource Exchange events connecting more than 5,000 individuals to critical services, including housing resources for more than 900 families. At the most recent exchange in October, at Seattle Central College, two-thirds of the 253 families that accessed housing resources were experiencing homelessness. More exchanges are planned for the next year.

The Family Resource Exchange concept stemmed from a homelessness summit hosted at Starbucks Support Center in Seattle in 2018 when the company convened business leaders, government officials and homeless advocates to develop possible solutions to the growing family homelessness crisis. The group agreed to create a venue for businesses, the public sector and non-profits to meet families directly in their communities to provide resources, with an emphasis on providing access to stable housing. Families get access to more practical needs as well: haircuts, shoes, warm gloves, food and childcare. 

The events target unsheltered families in King County, families living in cars and vehicles, families at immediate risk of becoming homeless and immigrant and refugee families.

The Starbucks Foundation has committed over $750,000 towards the Family Resource Exchanges, which supports costs related to organizing and hosting the events, as well as "Streets to Home" flexible funding that helps move many of the families into stable housing.

“In just one year, we’ve seen real impact through the Family Resource Exchanges – it’s a model that’s working, but there’s still more to do,” said John Kelly, Starbucks executive vice present of global public affairs and social impact. “We encourage others in the business community to join as well.”

“We are working to meet the needs of the hundreds of unsheltered families in our community,” said Lauren McGowan, senior director of ending homelessness & poverty for United Way of King County. “That’s why the partnership with Starbucks, Mary’s Place, Wellspring and the University of Washington is so powerful. With their support we can go to where these families and students are and offer them more resources that are relevant to them – whether that’s housing, special services for college students, on-the-spot job interviews, haircuts, new shoes or groceries for the week.”

“These neighborhood-based events are such an effective way to connect with families in need in our community,” said Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place. “At these smaller locations we can meet families where they are, build relationships and offer them the services they need to be stably housed.” 

“The Family Resource Exchange is remarkable for the diversity of resources all being on location, at the same time, poised to help families,” said Walter Washington, senior director of housing services at Wellspring Family Services. “But we know it can be overwhelming for families, so we aim to personally help each family navigate successfully – and we see evidence that this extra attention is effective for lasting solutions.”

In August, the University of Washington joined the coalition and hosted a Family Resource Exchange event at its Bothell campus, connecting local families and to housing options, job opportunities, financial coaching, public benefits and legal expungement services. The UW will host additional exchanges at its Seattle and Tacoma campuses sometime in 2020.

The University of Washington’s involvement is important as it will expand the coalition’s ability to serve more families and young people in the region, particularly students battling homelessness and food insecurity.

According to a recent University of Washington survey of food and housing insecurity across the University’s three campuses, an estimated 190 students may lack a stable place to live, and about one-quarter of students have worried recently about having enough to eat. In the year leading up to that survey, an estimated 4,800 to 5,600 students experienced housing instability, spending nights in a vehicle, shelter or tent, or staying with friends.

“We know that some of our students are struggling to maintain stable living situations and reliable access to healthy food, especially as the cost of living has increased,” said Sally J. Clark, University of Washington’s director of regional & community relations. “We are glad to join in as part of the community to support stable housing not just for our students and their families, but also for our neighbors.”

About Mary’s Place

Mary’s Place believes that no one’s child should sleep outside. They provide safe, inclusive shelter and services to serve women, children and families on their journey out of homelessness.

About Starbucks

Since 1971, Starbucks Coffee Company has been committed to ethically sourcing and roasting high-quality arabica coffee. Today, with more than 30,000 stores around the globe, Starbucks is the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world. Through its unwavering commitment to excellence and its guiding principles, the company brings its unique Starbucks Experience to life for every customer through every cup. To share in the experience, please visit a store or online at and

About University of Washington

The University of Washington was founded in 1861 and is one of the pre-eminent public higher education and research institutions in the world with three campuses in Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma. The University’s impact on individuals, the region and the world is profound — whether launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of this time through undaunted research and scholarship.

About United Way of King County

United Way of King County brings caring people together to give, volunteer and take action to help people in need and solve society’s toughest challenges. Together, they’re helping build a community where people have homes, students graduate, and families are financially stable.

About Wellspring Family Services

For more than 125 years, Wellspring Family Services has worked to help families in crisis regain stability. Wellspring’s goal is to end the cycle of family homelessness by helping families navigate the services available in each community, preventing evictions and securing safe and stable housing, addressing the causes and impact of trauma, and helping prepare young children for success in Kindergarten and beyond. Wellspring’s research-based, wrap-around approach is designed to address the factors linked to repeat homelessness and help families find long-term stability.