City Unfairly Blamed

Posted September 5th, 2017 @ 8:19 AM by

Recently, news reports made it seem as though the city was responsible for funding decisions about Safe Haven and the new homeless day resource center – the Beacon. I feel like both characterizations were very unfair and untrue. Here’s why.

I’ll let Jim O’Keefe’s (City Community Development Director) email to the alders explain:

From: “Okeefe, James”
Date: September 1, 2017 at 2:00:53 PM CDT
To: “Eskrich, Sara”
Cc: “Rummel, Marsha” , “Monks, Anne” , “Reyes, Gloria” , “Erdman, Natalie”
Subject: Re: Catholic Charities and Porchlight

Hi Sara:

I am not in the office today and can’t seem to share this with all alders. Could you do that, please?

Neither of these issues lend themselves to short answers but I’ll try to give some background. First, Safe Haven.

Safe Haven is run by Porchlight. Located at Nakoosa Trails, it is a 14-bed transitional housing facility serving homeless persons with mental health issues. The City does not provide financial support, rather Safe Haven receives most of its support (about $350K) from HUD as part of an approximately $3M annual grant made to the Madison/Dane County Continuum of Care. The CoC is the network of homeless service providers, known collectively as the Homeless Services Consortium. It is they that apply for these federal funds, with administrative support from City staff, and the HSC Board that makes decisions regarding the content of the application. Generally speaking, funding for the projects and activities contained in the CoC proposals is renewed from one year to the next unless the CoC opts to discontinue poor performing projects or put forth something new, usually in response to HUD guidance.

The 2018 grant application has not yet been completed by the Board (that will happen in the next week or so), however, the Board has made a preliminary decision to seek federal funds to support the community’s coordinated entry system – a system mandated by HUD to improve the coordination of response to persons who are homeless. (2018 is the first year for which HUD has agreed to provide funds to support CE Systems. To date, the CE has been supported solely with City funds to the tune of about $140K per year and has not been particularly effective). CDD has been part of, and agrees with, this decision.

The issue is that the amount of the HUD grant is generally fixed from year to year so if CoCs wish to seek funding for new projects or activities, they must find that money by foregoing funding for other projects or activities that have received funds in the previous year. Importantly, in recent years, HUD has signaled its strong desire to refrain from providing financial support for transitional housing, preferring instead to support permanent housing solutions. If I’m not mistaken, Safe Haven is the sole remaining transitional housing program that receives support from this funding source.

These two factors, the HSC Board’s desire to seek federal funds to support and strengthen our CE system, and HUD’s discouragement of transitional housing proposals, make it quite likely that the Safe Haven program would be dropped from the 2018 CoC application. Again, the Board has not yet made final decisions. However, given the circumstance, Porchlight has decided to not submit a request for funding for Safe Haven.

And now to Catholic Charities and the day time resource center – known as the Beacon. The short story is that the operating budget for the Beacon suddenly and dramatically increased from figures the three funders (the County, the City and the United Way) had been working with. The City (me) learned about this development in a late July meeting. Involving the three funding partners and Catholic Charities. Until then, we had been operating and budgeting under the assumption of a $480,000 budget – $130K to be provided by the County, $100K each from the City and the United Way, and $150K from Catholic Charities. At the July meeting we learned the annual budget was not $480,000 but nearly $700,000, and the funds required from the three partners was not $330,000 but nearly $550,000.

We parted with an agreement to continue the discussion, including to consider options to trim the budget. The County Executive convened a meeting about a month later at which Catholic Charities signaled it was unwilling to consider budget reduction options. Instead, the County Exec proposed that the four parties contribute equally (about $175,000 each) toward the new budget.

Unless the Mayor or Council make changes, the 2018 CDD base budget contains $110,000 for the resource center. An additional $25,000 is available, but is contingent upon the resource center providing overnight storage accommodations. The County and Catholic Charities have declined to provide overnight storage. Thus, the City’s commitment to the Center will have to grow by $65,000 to hit the target suggested by the County Exec.

A few final points. First, this somewhat awkward situation has arisen as a consequence of miscommunications between and among the four entities. Catholic Charities insists its “new” budget is the same as that originally submitted to the County as part of the County’s RFP process. That may be, however, under the County RFP process, budgets are not subject to review by or shared with reviewers (which in this case included City and United Way officials.) Similarly, subsequent contract negotiations have been conducted only between the County and Catholic Charities. The unfortunate consequence is that this problem emerged only very recently.

Second, splitting the operating budget equally among the four partners is one option but it would be a departure from the agreement that had been struck previously, i.e., 130/100/100/150.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the Beacon’s operating budget is but one part of the financing equation at the Center. The City’s contribution to what happens there doesn’t end with our support of its operating budget. The majority of direct services to be offered, from housing counseling to case management, aren’t a part of the operating budget. They will be provided by a host of nonprofits who will work out of the Center, many or most of whom will receive financial support from the City.

We all want this Center to be successful. Hopefully, there’s room to consider and discuss a full range of options, and find a way forward.

I’m happy to try to answer any questions.


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