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Homeless agencies vie for $1.5 million

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Tuesday May 01, 2001

The City Council is pondering grant applications from 15 nonprofit homeless service agencies that are vying for nearly $1.5 million in city and federal funds. 

The funding requests are part the annual Community Development Block Grant program that will allocate more than $7.2 million to 80 nonprofits that provide homeless, housing and health services.  

The applications have been reviewed by three city commissions and the City Manager’s Office. Each has made funding recommendations to the council, which is expected to make a final decision at its May 8 meeting. The council held a public hearing on the issue Thursday.  

Of the $1.5 million for nonprofit homeless services, the city provides $1.1 million and the rest comes from federal programs.  

The largest chunk of funding, $816,000, comes from Measure O funds. Measure O was approved by city voters in 1994 and was designed to address the critical needs of the homeless as well as attendant problems such as  

panhandling in commercial areas. 

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the council has made only slight adjustments to the city manager’s recommendation in the past and, by and large, approves it. For the first time in years, Worthington said, the city manager agreed with each of the Homeless Commission’s recommendations. 

The nonprofit that will likely receive one of the largest grants is Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, which will receive about $390,000. BOSS manages six homeless programs in Berkeley including Harrison House Shelter and Services, Harrison House Recovery Services and Youth House. The recommendation is that most of the programs are funded at the same level they were last year. 

Executive Director boona cheema said the grant amounts won’t cover cost of living increases. She said with the steep rise in energy and other operational costs, the grants represent a decrease in funding. “It looks like the city is maintaining a level of effort but in the end it’s a cut,” she said.  

BOSS employees are unionized and get a 3 percent raise each year and, cheema said, she wishes she could give them more. “Check out the housing costs around here,” she said. “Some of my staff are in a crisis situation. We have to pay them so they can live here and work here.” 

Homeless Commission Chair Robin Miller said the commission had a limited amount of money to work with. “It’s not like we had an infinite amount of money to allocate,” she said. “I think everybody agrees BOSS does fine work and we did the best we could do.” 

According to city Homeless Coordinator Eric Landes-Brenman, the city will have to struggle to get the same level of funding from the federal government next year.  

“The Bush administration will likely keep the same level of funding for homeless issues at $1.3 million nationwide,” he said. “But some of the rules have changed, for example funding for housing will take precedent over other homeless services like drug and alcohol treatment.” 

Of the 15 nonprofits that applied, only Jubilee Restoration was denied funding in the Homeless Commission and city manager recommendations. According to the Homeless Commission’s report to the council, Jubilee applied for $45,000 to run a drug and alcohol treatment residence for six people. The commission recommended not funding the project because there was no other funding sources and the grant would only have covered 40 percent of the operating costs.  

Several programs were recommended for a decrease in funding from previous years. The Multi-Agency Service Center at 1931 Center St. will likely receive about $33,000 less than it did last year. MASC is a drop-in center where clients can take advantage of a variety of services from taking a shower to scheduling appointments with heath providers. 

The Homeless Commission report said the reason for the cut was MASC’s failure to hire staff for which it had received additional funding in previous years. The report also identified a 51 percent decrease in referrals to drug and alcohol programs.  

MASC Director Robert Long, said the program has been struggling to find a counselor to provide the specialized treatment that MASC offers.  

“We did have a person who was counseling and doing administrative work but he was hired by the city’s Health and Human Services Department in March,” he said. 

MASC uses the Reduced Harm Method for drug and alcohol treatment, which does not require complete abstinence. 

“The truth is there are people out there who are not ready to quit or who have lost all hope and don’t see any reason to completely quit,” Long told the City Council at the public hearing last Thursday. “With the Reduced Harm Method we can still reach out to them and make them feel safe, which is where they have to be if we’re going to help them.” 

Other programs that will likely receive funding are the New Bridge Foundation that provides residential substance abuse treatment and The Women’s Daytime Drop in Center, which provides a variety of services including respite, meals and case management.