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Seattle nonprofit Uplift Northwest eye clinic in high demand after pandemic hiatus

After a nearly two-year hiatus the eye clinic at Uplift Northwest say there's huge demand and a waitlist for service.

SEATTLE — A report released by the City of Seattle says homelessness has increased during the pandemic and shelters have reduced capacity. 

Nonprofits say these findings go beyond housing. Resources for homeless and low-income families have been shutdown and, in some cases, slow to return. 

After a nearly two year hiatus, Uplift Northwest has reopened its free optical clinic. The clinic closed in early 2020 because of COVID-19. The nonprofit wanted to protect it's volunteers and visitors. 

Now reopened, the once-a-week clinic provides eye exams and glasses. It's estimated to have a waitlist of more then 70 people. 

"I'm adding people to the waitlist faster than we're getting people out of the waitlist because if you want to work you have to be able to have glasses. Whether it's to get a job as a food handler. Whether it's to make sure you're catching the right stop for your bus or just being able to do whatever you need to at work, it's essential that you're able to see," said Max Churaisin, the program coordinator for the clinic. 

Uplift Northwest's Executive Director Gina Hall says resources for the region's low-income and homeless populations have seen severe impacts from the pandemic. Hall says services have been suspended and that at least two local shelters have temporality shutdown. 

Seattle's report estimates there are 2.5 times as many requests for access to shelter than the city can accommodate. 

"We have to follow strict CDC guidelines with all of our services, even here in our computer lab. We have 16 work stations, we can only serve eight because of social distancing, masking, so everything is really a challenge," Hall said. "At the same time we're serving a vulnerable population so we want to be safe."

The nonprofit specializes in helping people find temporary employment. Hall believes because of the pandemic, Uplift Northwest could only help half the people it would assist in a normal year, but she added there's been a stronger focus on finding long-term positions.

She says more than 90% of people using Uplift Northwest's services are in poverty and more than 60% are homeless. Her team spends a lot of time working to instill hope, which is something she wants to see reopened eye clinic can provide. 

"Part of what we do here at Uplift Northwest is provide dignity, provide hope and provide a vision for the future," Hall said.