Shelter directors speak out at city council hearing on fundingWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a June 13 public hearing, directors of area homeless shelters expressed concern to city council over the threat of looming budget cuts to their agencies.
Councilmembers presented some legislation but put the discussion on hold in the interest of time after about two hours.
The city released Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) recommendations last week and the results marred the hopes that any shelter directors had of making up for lost funding they incurred from prior cuts.
The homeless shelters, including the Aurora House, Family House, Bethany House, the Harbor House and La Posada Family Shelter, learned about two months ago that they would no longer receive Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Many of these shelters have depended on this money for decades. The Aurora House, a rehabilitative transitional housing program, used CDBG funding for at least 12 percent of its budget.
Now, staff and directors of the local shelters have nearly two weeks to create a new budget and find a solution to their problems. The new budget cycle starts at the beginning of July.
Renee Palacios, executive director of the Family House, said the proposed cuts would eliminate 12 percent from their total budget, around $85,000.
With the fiscal year ending on June 30, Palacios said there is not a lot of time.
“We have had emergency meetings to find where $85,000 can be cut and we’ve put three things on the chopping block,” Palacios said. “We’ve put feeding our residents, security and transportation for children to our daycare all on the chopping block. When you’re talking 12 percent in 11 days, you have to make some pretty rash decisions.”
Lourdes Santiago, director of the Department of Neighborhoods, spoke before council. She said the city review panel did not grant some agencies CDBG funding because they were eligible to receive ESG funding while other agencies were not.
Dino Peluso, board president for the Family House, was outraged at the proposed cuts. He, like many at local shelters, was under the impression that the CDBG money lost would be restored by ESG funding.
“What makes me so upset is that, between CDBG and ESG, they cut 12 percent of my budget and then they keep telling me it’s going to be alright,” Peluso said. “They expect us to up our service to the homeless but I don’t understand how we can do that with less money.”
The Family House provides 37,000 meals a year to its residents.
Both Peluso and Palacios expressed their concerns when speaking to the council at the hearing.
“We have a community at the Family House that is at the worst moments of their lives losing their shelter. Now, they have to worry about losing their food,” Peluso said. “We want to be on the forefront of homelessness. We want to be the voice of the people. But it’s hard to be the voice of the people with 13 percent less money.”
If the funding is not restored, Peluso said that the Family House, as well as other local shelters, could face a hard and bleak future.
“What happens if, at the end of the day, Family House has to close?” he said. “Out of the 137 beds in area homeless shelters, we have 90. Yet, it seems fit to cut 100 percent of our CDBG funds. We’re asking for help. Our organization is at its end if something doesn’t change.”
While speaking in front of council at the hearing, Jennifer Flory, a Family House resident, addressed the issue of rapid rehousing — a method that county shelters are being asked to pursue.
For Flory’s daughter, 9-year-old Jaylyn, rapid rehousing would not be good as she has ADHD, epilepsy and a form of autism, Flory said.
“Rapid rehousing is not good for us,” Flory said. “It would not be safe for us to move an autistic child around so much.”
Many other shelter residents spoke in front of council, telling their stories and pleading with the city to make a well-informed decision as to where money needs to go.
“This should not be about how many shelters there are,” said Ken Leslie, founder of 1Matters and former Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board member. “If the Family House closes, where will people go?”
City Council has the ultimate decision, one it will reach by the end of June.
“Homelessness really is a complex issue,” said City Council President Joe McNamara. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness. All I can say is that I think everyone in this room has the common goal to end homelessness.”
Councilman D. Michael Collins introduced a proposed amendment to the ESG recommendations that would reduce funds to other local agencies by 10 percent in order to gently guide the shelters into the fiscal transition.
“This is a one-time fix. It gives the organizations and the city of Toledo a year to come up with a better way of addressing HUD’s changing priorities and the Department of Neighborhoods policies,” Collins said.
Council will have another hearing to discuss additional proposed legislation.
Denise Fox, executive director of the Aurora House, addressed council on the unexpected news of the funding cuts, urging them to make the decision about what is best for the people needing the services.
“When we first started [the fiscal year], Aurora attended a meeting for CDBG like usual. We became aware that Toledo suffered a 3 percent cut of funding,” Fox said. “As an agency, we have received those funds for over 20 years and we fall under eligible CDBG services.”
When it comes to reducing the length of time a resident can stay at the Aurora House, Fox said rapid rehousing is not the best option.
The Aurora House, which specializes in helping women and their children, often houses their residents for extended periods of time. The prospective loss of around $70,000 would likely cut the length of time a resident can stay, she said.
“As an agency, we are very much focused on long-term housing,” she said. “We are sincerely looking at a program that changes lives and you can’t do that in a short amount of time.”
Tags: 1Matters, Aurora House, Bethany House, Community Development Block Grants, D. Michael Collins, Denise Fox, Dino Peluso, Emergency Solutions Grant, Family House, homeless shelters, Jennifer Flory, Joe McNamara, Ken Leslie, La Posada Family Shelter, Lourdes Santiago, rapid rehousing, Renee Palacios, the Harbor House, Toledo City Council, Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board