Cuts Proposed for Some Agencies Serving Needy

By Judith Scherr
Friday April 27, 2007

Start the day with a good breakfast. “That’s what our moms always told us,” said Bert Johnson Wednesday morning over hot cereal, a cup of java, a couple of slices of day-old bread and the company of friends.  

Johnson, who sleeps on the streets around town, has been getting a free no-frills breakfast for about a year at the Dorothy Day House breakfast program at Trinity United Methodist Church at Dana Street and Bancroft Way. 

The six-day-a-week offering that serves 100-to-150 meals each day is facing a proposed cut of $8,000, about one-fourth of the $31,800 the program got last year from the city’s general fund.  

“I don’t know if people doing the budget have seen the program,” Johnson said. “They stretch every penny.” 


Providers weigh in 

At Tuesday evening’s meeting, the City Council heard from more than 60 service providers and recipients and reviewed about 175 programs for which several commissions and city staff have proposed spending almost $9.4 million in federal and city funds, down from slightly more than $9.5 million from last year. The city’s entire budget is around $350 million. 

The council is slated to vote on the approximately $5.3 million federal funding portion at its May 8 meeting and will address the approximately $4.2 million from the city’s general fund in June. 

The city funds about one-third of the Trinity breakfast program; grants and donations fund the other two-thirds. The $8,000 cut means 8,000 fewer meals will be served, program director Jill Messing told the Daily Planet, pointing out that the program is more than simply about food. 

“We treat the homeless with a high level of respect,” Messing said. “The clients trust us a lot.” 

Program cuts are a result of a 3 percent cut in federal funds, most of which comes from Community Service Block Grants. City staff has identified some funding that is slated to make up for 1 percent of the lost funds, leaving the city with a 2 percent overall cut in community agency allocations for the 2008 fiscal year. 

Funding levels were recommended by the Housing Advisory Commission, the Homeless Commission, the Community Welfare Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and city staff. 

Commissioners and staff said they believe that in some cases the agencies facing cuts could make up the difference with grant funds or donations. 


Some get more 

Many programs won’t feel the pinch at all and some will see enhanced funding, such as Options for Recovery Services and the Emergency Services for Disabled Transportation Program.  

While most of the agencies under consideration provide services to people in need, some are categorized as providing economic development. The city manager recommended, for example, that the Berkeley Convention and Visitors Bureau, which received $241,667 from the general fund in fiscal year 2007, get $277,333 next year.  

Another city-funded program will see a cut, however. The Community Energy Services Corporation, a nonprofit whose board of directors is the city Energy Commission, is facing a decreased CDBG grant, going from about $338,000 in fiscal year 2007 to $320,000 next year. CEAC provides services such as home rehabilitation and seismic retrofit services for low-income Berkeley residents and services for businesses to help them become more energy efficient. 

Notwithstanding the cut, CEAC is slated to receive the largest among Berkeley’s CDBG grants. 


Providers: cuts will hurt 

Many of the providers and service recipients who filled the council chambers and stairwell outside it Tuesday evening face funding cuts. Through the Looking Glass is a program that supports the parenting of people with disabilities. The proposed cut from fiscal year 2007 to 2008 is from $31,500 to $28,300. “We’re the only group in the county doing parenting with disabled people,” Judi Rogers, pregnancy and birthing specialist at the agency, told the council. 

Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency is facing cuts to several of its programs that serve homeless individuals and families, including a cut at the multi-service center from $193,800 in 2007 to next year’s proposed $165,000. 

Winston Burton, a BOSS staff person, told the council that the center is doing its job by serving the most difficult to serve population. “Of 119 new intakes, 33 percent are chronically homeless,” he said, noting that over the last year BOSS put 66 people into permanent housing. 

Cuts from $92,100 to $80,000 at Lifelong Medical Center’s acupuncture detox clinic means 2,000 fewer visits, a spokesperson told the council. Among a number of other agencies to lose some funding are New Bridge Foundation, Rebuilding Together (formerly Habitat for Humanity) and the Japanese-American Services of the East Bay senior program. 

While the presentation to the council by category of need—disabled, senior, health, etc.—was organized and orderly, the process leading up to the recommendations drew criticisms from various quarters. 

Marie Bowman, chair of the Housing Advisory Committee, said staff had been inappropriately lobbied by low-income housing developers and that the commission’s request to ask council to look for additional funds for Lifelong Medical’s housing needs was ignored in a staff report. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said the process was driven by the agencies rather than by a more thorough knowledge of the various needs in Berkeley. 


Lights out for seniors 

Seniors from New Light Senior Center came out in force to lobby the council to save their three-day-a-week organic meals program. City staff has recommended defunding the program and moving it from the South Berkeley YMCA on California Street to the South Berkeley Senior Center, but the program’s last day is today (Friday). 

According to Councilmember Max Anderson, the program has no insurance, despite the city’s having given it $18,000 for that purpose, and staff has no workers’ compensation. Moreover, Anderson said, the YMCA, which owns the building, wants the space to expand its youth program. 

Former Executive Director Jackie DeBose, however, said in a phone interview Thursday that liability and auto insurance are paid up and that the funds from the city were spent on back rent and staff salaries. DeBose said budgetary problems at New Light stemmed from the 30 percent funding cuts the city made to the program in recent years. 

New Light seniors at the council meeting told the Daily Planet that they don’t mind moving the program to another venue, but want to keep the community they’ve formed and their unique organic meals program intact. Former Councilmember Maudelle Shirek was instrumental in creating the program and continues to eat there three times a week, they said. 

“These cuts are painful,” said Councilmember Dona Spring toward the end of the council meeting. “These programs do so much with so little.” 


Photograph by Judith Scherr. 

Bert Johnson starts his day with the Dorothy Day House breakast program, one of the many city funded programs facing possible cuts.