Shelters Look for Alternative Funds

Murray, KY – The title "Emergency Shelter Grants," is somewhat misleading. An ESG provides funds for building shelters, paying operating expenses, and preventing homelessness by helping a family pay their rent or utilities. The Gentry House in Calloway County is one agency not receiving a grant this year. Gentry offers emergency housing for families with kids and domestic violence victims. It's a small operation and Director Wendy Lovett says most of their funding came from the ESG.

"We get money from the United Way here in Murray. They have been wonderful. And we get private donations. But the mass amount of our funding came from Emergency Shelter Grants which is filtered down through HUD. It starts at HUD and then it comes to Kentucky Housing Corporation and then it's filtered down to us."

Lovett's immediate response to what she'll do in the coming year is "I don't know," but she hasn't been sedentary about the issue. Lovett has contacted local government, media outlets, individuals, and service organizations like the Kiwanis Club.

"We're gonna try to have fundraisers, we're going to do the best that we can and we're going to have fundraisers and we're going to make it last as long as we can. We will apply again next year I'm sure, but in the meantime there's going to be an interim period there when whatever we can do is going to depend on whatever we can raise."

Three organizations in Christian County are in the same situation as Gentry House. The Hopkinsville Salvation Army, Sanctuary Incorporated, and the Aaron McNeil House had all received grants in 2008. Sanctuary Director Helen Kinton says the grant represented about ten percent of her housing assistance budget. Sanctuary is a 24 hour shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They serve nine counties in the Pennyrile.

"I of course have taken that money out of our budget. And really what that leaves us the option of is raising more cash locally which is hard to come by because everybody's having difficulty right now with the recession."

Kinton says money is always tight for a non-profit like Sanctuary. In recent years it's been a tough balancing act to keep a budget. Kinton says it's been over three years since she's given her twenty-four employees a raise. Despite a funding pool of eighteen different grants, she worries about the future.

"As the legislature look at what they're going to do in Kentucky and the money shortage in Kentucky . . .all that is going to eventually affect us. I don't think we can manage at the level we're managing now if we get any more cuts."

Now one knows for sure why these agencies didn't qualify this year. Some of the problem could be resources. Last year, KHC doled out 1.9 million dollars for ESGs. This year they were only able to distribute 1.3 million. Some speculate rural Kentucky just didn't have the homeless numbers that larger cities had. Whatever the reason, at least a few local residents have stepped up to help out. John Allen of Hopkinsville is Mission Team Leader at St. John's United Methodist Church.

"It was my thought that if a lot of people did a little that we could make a huge difference in providing for the shelter needs of the homeless and victims of domestic violence and abuse."

Allen and his church issued a statement in the local newspaper challenging other houses of worship and individuals to make up the ESG shortfall. St. John's has pledged a thousand dollars. Allen isn't sure how many other churches will answer the challenge, but he's optimistic.

"It won't take many partners before we're able to meet and even exceed the grant funding that was offered last year."

In addition to the kindness of local residents, agencies have the chance to qualify for more money later this year. At the end of May Governor Steve Beshear announced what officials call Kentucky's Housing and Emergency Assistance Reaching the Homeless or HEARTH program. The twelve million dollar investment comes to the state through federal stimulus funds. All the shelter officials who didn't get ESGs plan to apply for the money. Gentry House's Wendy Lovett hopes the stimulus grants won't just evaluate the area's need in terms of flat numbers.

"I would really like for them to look at percentages. Because if you serve a 150 people and you've 15,000 y'know the percentage is going to be so much greater a 150 people compared to 3,000 people."

Shelters need to get their stimulus applications in by mid-July. They'll know award amounts by the end of September. Sanctuary's Helen Kinton is grateful for the extra boost, but isn't going to rely on the stimulus.

"What people need to understand about it doesn't really solve any problems because it's only for a year. And it's better to have some help in that year than none, I'm not arguing that at all. But it's not ongoing money that we can depend on."

For those who work in shelters, finding housing, food, and essential services for the region's neediest populations is a perpetual challenge no matter the economic climate. But this year, it just seems tougher.