Connecting Newly Housed Residents with Transit

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: September 12, 2023

Hopelink and King County, WA Metro are teaming up to teach newly housed residents of the county’s 1,600 new affordable housing units how to use public transit. But instead of relying on transit professionals to reach out to traditionally underserved populations, they’re recruiting and training community members to support their peers.

Over the past year, King County Metro and Hopelink Mobility Management, a nonprofit organization, partnered to launch the Community Transportation Navigators (CTN) program. Their goal was to focus on specific communities underserved by public transportation and identify innovative ways to connect them with transit.

In their first cohort this year, the team trained CTNs from their local Filipino American community to help spread understanding about how to use public transportation. To do this, they hired and trained people from outside the transit sector to build relationships with their peers and help them understand their mobility options.

The program was so successful that the team is launching a second cohort program after the first cohort sunsets at the end of December. This year, the team will focus on supporting people who have experienced chronic homelessness and will be newly housed through the County’s Health Through Housing initiative.

By recruiting and training CTNs who residents can identify with, rather than traditional transit professionals, the team predicts that the community will better understand how to utilize their transit options and will be more likely to use them.


Learning from Cohort 1

Over the past year, King County Metro and Hopelink’s team learned to listen to the Transportation Navigators they hired to be ambassadors to the local Filipino American community.  

“We learned to lean into the Navigators and hear their feedback of what is going on, and what is going to be the best way to serve this community that they have a relationship or similar experience with,” Penny said.

Finding the right CTNs was key to the program’s success. The team recruits Navigators based on their interpersonal skills and connections with their community. When recruiting, Sandy and Phan emphasize that they will train new hires on how to use the transit options they’ll be educating their communities about.

“We’re looking for someone who is passionate, who wants to serve and give back to their community,” said Sandy. “We want someone who is personable, can talk to people, and build on those relationships and connections.”

The first CTN cohort will be a valuable resource to mentor the new group of navigators who can continue to disseminate information to their communities and share feedback and questions.


Recruiting Navigators for Cohort 2

King County Metro and Hopelink are recruiting people who have experienced challenges similar to those faced by the communities they’ll serve, rather than experienced mobility professionals who clients might be hesitant to approach. To do this, they’re working with Renton Technical College Wellbriety Center, a resource hub for students who are interested in stopping or reducing their use of substances. They’re also partnering with the Department of Community and Human Service’s Employment Navigators to recruit candidates for the CTN roles.

King County Metro Senior Transportation Planner Penny Lara has a public health background and approaches her transit work through that frame.

“We want to replicate the CTN model so that folks now in stable housing can lean into a peer and trust them to get customized support,” explained Penny.

The CTNs will work on site at the new Health Through Housing initiative’s properties and will be paid $65/hour, employed as part time independent contractors.

Hopelink Mobility Coordinator Sandy Phan highlighted how this project is uniquely empowering non-transit professionals to expand access to mobility options.

“What we learned is that transportation is the intersection of a lot of human services and needs,” explained Sandy. “People use it to get food, to see family and friends, to get to work. Helping connect all these folks is what really creates a satisfied and successful life.”


New Challenges

All residents of the new Health Through Housing facilities will be provided with an unlimited ORCA Card, paid for through the county’s general budget. While this will give newly housed people access to ride King County Metro’s transit system, the team anticipates that residents may have limited access to cellular data, or directions that are only published in English. Further, they explain, digital navigation tools like Google Maps only populate a couple of public transit options.

In particular, King County Metro is aware that clients struggle to use public transit to travel to , Penny explained.

“We created user friendly maps in PDF with landmarks that clients reported to use to get around. Clients can use google maps or download the PDF version of the map and can take a screenshot or a picture, so they don’t need to use data,” she said.


Relationships Matter

Both Penny and Sandy highlighted the significance of strong relationships between all stakeholders, from administration and leadership to navigators and their clients. Their program is unique because they recruit and train community members from outside transportation ecosystem, with whom clients will more likely build lasting relationships.

“That trust is super important, just as the trust between the navigator and their client. The navigator needs to be able to come and express how they feel, and how their clients feel,” said Sandy.


For more information or questions, contact:

Penny Lara (King County Metro)

Sandy Phan (Hopelink)


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