Helping Link, a Seattle-based non-profit organization serving Vietnamese immigrants and refugees, has served the Vietnamese community since 1993 and established their headquarters in 2001in Little Saigon. However, now the looming and growing presence of gentrification has left Helping Link to relocate before March of this year.
At first, Minh-Duc Nguyen, founder and executive director of Helping Link, said she felt numb when she received the news of the lease notice. The numbness thawed, and what replaced it was fear for Helping Link’s future.
Three robberies of Helping Link’s headquarters, the rush to move services online, and the unfortunate COVID-19 related deaths of elderly clients left Ms. Nguyen and volunteers to keep Helping Link together despite the past two challenging years.
Stepping into the quaint building, you’ll be greeted with tea-green colored walls and decorations of paper models wearing Ao Dai from garden calendar cutouts. You might immediately be drawn to the large collage of photos, shaped into Vietnam.
It shows the years of Helping Link’s services through the memories of volunteers and clients alike. Despite the headquarters not being used due to COVID-19 requirements; the office space still holds the semblance of a community spirit.
“Our volunteers come to us to give back to the community and often to build skills,” Ms. Nguyen said. “We welcome anyone who is willing to make a commitment to serving the Vietnamese community.”
This includes volunteers such as Jeff Heid, a cybersecurity consultant, who joined Helping Link in October 2021. Although Heid has been with the organization for a limited time, it doesn’t have an effect on his connection to Helping Link.
“I think Helping Link fulfills a critical purpose for the Vietnamese community in Seattle by helping them acclimatize themselves to American life,” Heid said.
What Heid is referring to is the many services Helping Link provides for the Vietnamese community. Helping Link conducts bilingual technology literacy classes, ESL lessons and citizenship classes.
The majority of their services have moved remotely online but problems have arisen within that decision. The influx of individuals seeking the services of Helping Link has created situations in which one volunteer is teaching a class of 45 clients through zoom.
But, a return to the headquarters seems unlikely as Ms. Nguyen described the aftermath of the multiple burglaries and the surrounding area where Helping Link is located.
“Helping Link has been there for our clients,” said Ms. Nguyen. “So, going into the 20 months I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or to scream. Because all I’m hearing is crisis, crisis, and crisis.”
Helping Link and many organizations, businesses and neighborhoods all share a growing problem – gentrification. Since 2000, fifty percent of eligible census tracts in Seattle have been gentrified, and that includes Little Saigon.
The myriad of modern high rise apartments with not a sight of trash around the premises is a stark contrast to the environment that Helping Link resides in.
What was once a ramp accessible for diasbled individuals to reach the Helping Link headquarters entrance is now blocked off by a fence. Used needles, garbage and clothing lie on the ramp and the surrounding area of Helping Link.
Robberies have resulted in multiple pieces of technology and equipment being stolen and a ransacked workplace. This is a daily occurrence for businesses, organizations, and residents within Little Saigon, according to a Dec. 3 editorial in the Seattle Times.
The lease notice requires Helping Link to move out by March 2022. According to Nguyen, this doesn’t truly give them enough time to find a space to fit a computer lab, moving important and sensible documents, and a big enough recreational area for their clients, young and old, who could return one day.
The headquarters in Little Saigon still holds a foundation for the organization and the people connected to it. However, Nguyen holds no resentment towards the landlord. She says she understands why the landlord decided to take this step.
“The landlord has been very kind,” Ms. Nguyen said as a smile graced her face. “But, you know, here’s an opportunity for him to sell the land and make more money.”
The headquarters is a part of the Asian Plaza on 12th and Jackson along with other businesses. However, three of the businesses within Asian Plaza have moved out because they no longer have use of the building in which the landlord made his decision.
Ms. Nguyen believes that these development projects are taking away what’s vital for them to exist.
“I feel like being a community, we need to have neighborhoods, we need to have services, we need to have culture stuff, we need to have stores,” Nguyen said. “Because when you want to visit a town, what is the beauty of the town, right?”
The pristine appearances of the newly built apartments next to the neglect of long-time organizations and businesses in the neighborhood providing culturally appropriate services begin what will seem to be a trend of displacement for neighborhoods like Little Saigon.
If you’d ever like to reach out to Helping Link to offer support or seek support, you can reach them at their email, [email protected], and their phone number, (206)-568-5160.