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Uptown in the News  

July 6, 2005
Homeless shelters struggle to raise money following city cuts
By (Andela Caputo)

Some North Side homeless shelters were sent scrambling in mid-June when they got two weeks notice that city grants crucial to their operation had been cut. Now some are launching 11th-hour campaigns to raise money and keep their shelters open.

Officials from the city's Human Services Department announced, June 13 that the homeless services budget was cut from $17 million last year to $15 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. In part, the cuts are due to a $800,000 reduction in city spending, according to a Human Services spokeswoman.

The number of overnight shelter beds will be reduced from 1,100 to 750. And funding for a handful of daytime centers was eliminated entirely as a result.

Brady Harden, the president of Inner Voice, the umbrella organization that oversees the city's network of emergency shelters on a contractual basis said the cuts are "devastating".

"What's so puzzling to us is that the need has never stopped," Harden said, "But we're looking at cutting beds like we've triumphed homelessness."

Among the local programs facing cuts are the Uptown-based men's shelter Breakthrough Urban Ministries, 5249 N. Ashland Ave. and the Sylvia Center for women and children, 4615 N. Clifton Ave. The daytime supportive services centers cut off entirely from city funding are North Side Housing and Supportive Services, 835 N. Addison Ave. and the St. Augustine Center, 4512 N. Sheridan Rd. The daytime center at Rest, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., is also faced with running its programs with reduced city funding.

The emergency shelter system was initially created in the late '90s as an overflow for people who couldn't find shelter during cold winters. The beds were first in line for cuts this year under a push by the city's Ten-year Plan to End Homelessness, which aims to transition the homeless into longer-term shelters rather than cater to people on a night-by-night basis.

It's not a permanent shelter system," Human Services Commissioner Carmello Vargas said. "It's a temporary stop. It's not a place to live in. You're supposed to come in, get what you need and move on."

The daytime centers, like North Side Housing and Supportive Services, were set up to offer supplemental services including counseling, healthcare, meals and phone services that many shelters are not always equipped to provide.

Executive Director Sherise Alexander said late-breaking news that $96,500 would not flow to the center, formerly known as Lakeview shelter, has dealt the agency an unexpected blow.

In the short-term, the agency is scaling back hours, laying off staff and cutting some healthcare services rather than close the center housed in a church basement entirely. And the leadership is looking to outside donors to keep the program afloat.

In the short-term, Alexander said she's unsure how the homeless population will adapt. The daytime center has offered "stability" for many of her clients that have few other places to go during the day.

While the cuts may seem drastic, Vargas said, they fit into the long-term plan and if he has to make cuts again next year he will again look to the emergency shelters and daytime centers first.

To counter the loss of emergency shelter beds, the city plans to add additional beds to accommodate people on a longer-term basis. According to a Human Services tally 190 additional beds, many in programs dubbed interim housing, will be added over the coming year.

Keeping with the push to become a longer-term shelter that fits into the 10-year plan, Rest plans to transition into an interim housing program next year. But with more people staying longer, Kathy Ahler, executive director, the Uptown-based shelter is anticipating new challenges.

"One bed in an emergency shelter doesn't equal one interim bed," she said. "We estimate that we'll be able to serve half the people... we'll have better results but what about all of the people out there that need beds?"

After turning away men, women and children 7,000 times over the past 12 months Ahler said the number of people shut out could add up quickly.

Vargas contends that there is a surplus of shelter beds now and that will not change. It's not like people are ending up on the streets. I can accommodate those people', he said.

But many shelter providers tell a different story.

Despite claims that there are ample beds, Breakthrough Urban Ministries Executive Director Arloa Sutter said that the agency is continually turning people away.

With room for 35 men each night and a waitlist of 25 others, Sutter said there is always someone new vying for a cot. And recently the agency has begun keeping a "wait list to get on the wait list," she added.

Now the shelter's directors are launching an emergency fundraising campaign to offset the cuts. "We've only got a month to figure things out," Sutter said. "We're scrambling to get $54,000 together."

Harden said agencies are facing similar situations across the city. "The reality now is that we have homeless people right now and we have no idea where we're going to locate them," he said.

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