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What appears to be redundant bureaucracy wrapped in red tape has kept federal money from flowing to at least two homeless shelters in the city of Toledo.
A holdup of $10,000 to $14,000 owed to the shelters each month since July 1 appears to be because of $19 that was spent to cover gas in a bus which carried homeless people to a Mud Hens game.
Toledo Councilman George Sarantou pressed the Bell administration Wednesday for answers on why Family House, a family shelter in central Toledo, and Aurora House, a shelter for homeless women and their children in North Toledo, are owed thousands of dollars stretching back to July.
“I just think there is something wrong here,” Mr. Sarantou said.
“It does not make any sense. How in God’s name can you owe someone for something from July and not pay it? We are approaching cold weather, and the need is high, the shelters are full, and their budgets are thin.”
Funding for shelters became a major point of contention in the 2013 Toledo mayoral campaign.
Incumbent Mike Bell said his administration was following federal guidelines when it dictated what each shelter would receive in Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions grant funding.
The challenger, Councilman D. Michael Collins — who defeated Mayor Bell this week — argued that the city had greater latitude and wanted more federal funding for shelters.
The issue was a drawn-out dispute earlier this year between the Bell administration and city council, right up to the deadline to submit the next year of funding allocations to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Lourdes Santiago, the city’s neighborhoods director, did not return calls for comment.
Tom Bonnington, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board — the quasi-public private agency that oversees the shelters — said the funding process is complicated and scrutinizing the shelters’ applications early in the fiscal year takes time.
Mr. Bonnington said he was unaware that the two shelters were waiting for federal funds from the city.
Denise Fox, executive director of Aurora House, told The Blade on Wednesday she just this week received the shelter’s July payment from the city but is still owed about $20,000 for August, September, and October. She said she didn’t know what the holdup was.
Renee Palacios, executive director of Family House, said the shelter has not received its federal funding from the city since the fiscal year started July 1.
She described a complicated process in which the city and homelessness board staff shuffled her monthly expenses back and forth without a decision being made.
“Thank God for community donations, and we receive money from the state of Ohio,” Ms. Palacios said.
“This is part of the CDBG and ESG money we fight for every year,” she said. “This year, it’s the $64,000 city council awarded us.”
The city is the recipient of the federal money, the homelessness board is the subrecipient, and the shelters are the sub-subrecipients.
In the meantime, the need for beds grows as temperatures drop.
“At the end of the month, we put together an enormous package that takes a lot of time and the [homelessness board staff] goes through with a fine-tooth comb,” Ms. Palacios said. “That takes weeks and then they send it to the city and it does the same exact thing. ... So if you think about how that takes six weeks, well, in that time, another bill is already sent to them.”
A city worker in the neighborhoods department — the keeper of the federal money — flagged the $19 gas bill. Ms. Palacios told the Bell administration last week to remove that expense, and she would pay the gas bill herself. She has not heard back yet from city officials.
Additionally, the city prohibits the shelters from requesting more than one-twelfth of its total allocation in any given month. Because bills are sometimes higher or lower each month, that has produced another financial barrier to running the shelters, Ms. Palacios said.
Before the election, Mr. Collins said if elected, he would restructure both the homelessness board and the city’s neighborhoods’ department.
On Thursday, the mayor-elect said he would ask for a report on the funding holdup.