6 Toledo shelters team up against funding cuts

Renee Palacios, executive director of Family House.
Renee Palacios, executive director of Family House.

Six Toledo homeless shelters mounted a collaborative offense Monday against proposed funding cuts for 2013-14, writing a stern letter that essentially bites the local hands that feed them federal money.

“It appears that the city, along with the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board and United Way, want to dismantle shelter programs,” said the letter co-signed by the executive directors of St. Paul’s Community Center, Bethany House, NAOMI, Family House, 1Matters, Aurora Project, Inc., and Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo. The letter was directed to Mayor Mike Bell and Toledo councilmen.

The city’s department of neighborhoods, with recommendations from a separate committee run through the independent Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, has proposed varying cuts for the second year of the federal Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant funding allocated to shelters.

Toledo’s federal Community Development Block Grant allocation last year was $6.83 million while the Emergency Solutions Grant was $610,343. Officials expect a minimum 5 percent drop in the Emergency Solutions Grant.

The conflict between the shelters and the city, homelessness board, and United Way of Greater Toledo in some ways seems based on different interpretations of voluminous federal guidelines from the U.S. Department of Urban Development. The shelters are asking Toledo City Council, which has the final say on allocations, to restore some of those cuts and redirect more funding back to them for services.

Renee Palacios, Family House executive director, said the city and homelessness board are too fixated on “rapid-rehousing” and have sacrificed money for other essential help given to homeless people.

“The money they have geared throughout the community is aimed mostly at rapid rehousing, which is true we have to implement and it is great for some people, but not great for everyone,” Ms. Palacios said. “Not everyone comes in with proper documentation, skills, mental health, not chemically dependent — and if you have any of those issues you cannot be rapidly rehoused.”

Ms. Palacios criticized the so-called “centralized intake” process enacted by the city and homelessness board against the wishes of many shelters. That process requires any person or family to call United Way’s 211 number to be placed in a shelter.

“They might try to do a quick resolution and talk to a family member of a person who got kicked out for the night so there would be a cost-savings, but we have been doing that for years,” Ms. Palacios said.

In 2012, the city’s department of neighborhoods recommended cutting federal Community Development Block Grant funds to five shelters and transitional housing agencies: the Aurora Project, Beach House, Bethany House, La Posada, and Family House.

This year, Bethany House did not apply for the funding.

“We are a domestic violence shelter. We cannot rapidly rehouse families we service,” said Kathy Griffin, Bethany House executive director. “They effectively blocked us from even applying this year … I stand in solidarity with the other shelters because what is going to happen to these people?”

In its letter, the coalition of shelters also said: “While the proposed funding cuts to shelters are occurring, a $239,467 increase of noncompetitive funds to [homelessness board] and United Way is being recommended.” Of that money, $110,000 is for centralized intake.

Deb Conklin, executive director of the homelessness board, said the money going to the homelessness board and the United Way is not for administrative costs.

“At application time, all the shelters were notified what the maximum for emergency shelters is and they could not get any more than that,” she said. “There should be no problem. They don’t want to make room for coordinated assessment and rapid rehousing but we can not as a community decide not to have rapid rehousing.”

Coordinated assessment is provided by the United Way, Ms. Conklin added.

Toledo City Council’s neighborhoods committee will hold a meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday on “the role and responsibility” of the homelessness board, said committee chairman, Councilman Adam Martinez.

“No one wants to decrease funding for homeless shelters because they do an important service,” Mr. Martinez said. “Unfortunately, there is more need than government fund available and we have to make prudent and hard decisions.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @ignaziomessina