Ahead of massive changes to homeless services planned in Salt Lake County this summer, several resource providers are facing the possibility of cuts to both their offerings and staffing.
The uncertainty comes after the state Homeless Coordinating Committee approved funding for just $17 million of the more than $40 million in requests it received — a gap that Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the committee’s chairman, defended without apology.
“The state is doing more this year than they’ve ever done by magnitudes,” he said before voting to approve the allocations. “I also want to make very clear that I don’t believe there’s $40 million of need out there. I come from a little different world, but just because you think you need it or you ask for it doesn’t mean it’s a real need or the most effective need.”
The Homeless Coordinating Committee received more requests for funding this year than last, according to Tricia Davis, program manager of the homelessness programs team at the Department of Workforce Services. That’s due in part to a number of organizations looking to increase their levels of service, a streamlining of applications to the committee and an increase in the number of agencies asking for support.
Last year, the allocation committee that makes funding recommendations to the full Homeless Coordinating Committee gave money to all but one of the 36 organizations that applied and was able to fund 102 of 104 projects. This year, it recommended support to 49 agencies and for only 102 of 149 project applications from July 1 through June 30, 2020.
In the future, it may become even more difficult to receive funding, Cox warned, as the state works to create better measurements of success in homelessness programming.
“I’m just putting everyone on notice that this is real and it’s going to be very painful for some people,” he said. “But we’re actually going to focus and make sure every dollar is being spent in the right way, in a way we can justify it and in a way that helps people.”
One of the organizations concerned about its level of funding from state Homeless Committee is The INN Between, a medical care center for the homeless.
After receiving nearly half a million dollars less than it had requested from the state, the organization is “regrouping” and considering what to put on the chopping block — including the possibility of closing the medical respite side of its facility altogether.
“We’re resourceful; we’re going to do our best to continue to provide the level of services that we’ve had in the past,” said Kim Correa, the organization’s executive director. “But we’re now already facing staffing cuts and we’ll most likely, at least in the short term, have to decrease our level of service.”
The organization’s $742,500 request to the Homeless Coordinating Committee was in large part to offset increased costs due to its licensing as an assisted living facility, she said. And while The INN Between has also received funding for 2020 from Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, those amounts represent a far smaller portion of the overall budget than Correa had expected to receive from the state.
The Homeless Coordinating Committee’s funding decisions come as three new resource centers are expected to come on line this year, replacing the large downtown shelter, The Road Home. The new facilities are planned to operate differently than traditional emergency shelters — serving specific populations and offering access to health services, a full mobile medical clinic and onsite case managers to help with services like job counseling.
Correa sees her services as an integral piece of a less centralized homeless services landscape. And while she recognized some of the medical respite may be able to be taken care of in the new centers, she’s “frustrated” by what she sees as a lack of importance placed on The INN Between’s services through funding decisions.
“Community leadership recognized that having these scattered sites was going to be more expensive and they made a commitment to fund that,” she said, noting that despite the shifts, there isn’t much more funding available now compared to 2019. “And now push is coming to shove, and they’re backpedaling on that commitment.”
Members of the state homelessness allocation committee, which spent hundreds of hours considering all the applications, placed funding priority on “diversion, emergency housing and shelter, distinct housing needs and client self-sufficiency,” according to state documents. The committee also considered community needs and performance.
Catholic Community Services (CCS), which will operate one of the new resource centers, is also concerned about its funding level. The service provider received more from the Homeless Coordinating Committee this year than last, but the $126,125 award is a far cry from its $509,458 request — and officials there say they are also considering areas to cut.
“It’s very frustrating for a lot of homeless service providers because everybody’s been touting, ‘We’re changing the entire system and it’s going to be different,’” said Matthew Melville, the homeless services director at CCS. “We were thinking that money would be attached to it, but it’s hard when you don’t get funded at the levels you anticipated. It means services will be cut back.”
Volunteers of America’s CEO and President Kathy Bray said her organization hadn’t been hit as hard as others (the committee approved $1,340,005 of its $1,941,170 request). Still, she said the organization would likely have to look for outside resources to fund a youth homelessness diversion position.
That’s a reality facing most of the organizations now, Melville said, noting that agencies shouldn’t rely solely on government funding in order to make ends meet.
“This is a great opportunity for community members to really come together and see that there was this giant gap in what we feel we need versus what the state can offer and that we need private donations to help bridge that gap and to really move the dial,” he said. “Any time your budget is essentially cut in half from what you ask, either cuts need to be made or you need to raise the difference. So hopefully there aren’t cuts to programs, because it’s a very vulnerable population.”
Two of the homeless resource centers are scheduled to open in July, while the third is expected to begin offering services in September.