News

Allied Churches, United Way look for solutions at homeless shelter

Agencies collaborate on solutions for The Future

By Kate Croxton

Posted Nov 18, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Updated Nov 18, 2018 at 1:36 PM

Allied Churches Board Chair Kelly Paul [Times-News]

After call for emergency funding and staff cuts earlier this fall, organizations collaborating to ensure Alamance County’s only homeless shelter and kitchen remains open

After a financial scare, Allied Churches of Alamance County will remain open, even though it’s meant staff cuts and transferring the food pantry.

It has also, with help from the United Way of Alamance County, formed a crisis task force to look at the shelter’s future as that’s still unclear.

These changes came after former Executive Director Richard Gary said Sept. 30 that without $50,000, the shelter would soon close. A week later, Gary was let go, but the community was still raising money for the shelter.

The shelter received $80,655 in October, after getting $18,705 in September, that will be used for operation expenses, such as paying utilities and staff, Board Chair Kelly Paul said.

“The community overwhelmingly stepped forward to support the mission of the organization, which is what we heard when they reached out that they wanted to do what they could to help to make sure that the doors stayed open and that a really vulnerable population was serviced,” Paul said.

Even with this large donation increase, Paul is concerned that these October donations are from donors who originally would give during November and December, which are critical months for the shelter.

“Our organization is heavily dependent on the holiday fundraiser. Almost all of our nongrant money is typically raised in November and December,” Paul said. “We need to have a proper evaluation done of those fundraising records so that we can see, ‘Are we trailing to where we are going to be behind and we need to do something additional in the fundraising, or do we need to continue on because it is not going to impact those numbers?’”

In addition to those donations, the shelter also received $50,000 from the state. This is currently keeping the night shelter, community kitchen and Serenity House open for the homeless population.

Financial problems

The financial gains in the last month follow struggles over previous months and even years.

Paul said the need for $50,000 or else ACAC could close was not accurate, and that the shelter had taken on additional activities that required a lot of man-hours and salaries.

“We were trying to look at this in the best way of we couldn’t continue operating the way we were with all of the programs that we had and all of the staff we had, so we had to make a change, and it is never something someone wants to do, but we wanted to get together with the community partners and say, ‘How do we best do this so that those in greatest need still get what they need?’” Paul said.

The shelter has seen a $150,000 decrease over the last five years from fundraising, grants and individual, church and business donations. United Way also has been a part of these decreased donations.

United Way President Heidi Norwick provided numbers that showed grant allocations and designations down 9.56 percent from 2017 to 2018. This number does not include donations for the Rapid Rehousing Program, one-time funding, Duke Energy Heating and Cooling funds, and executive director training. United Way is already on track to donate at least $48,000 to Allied Churches in 2019.

In addition to the decreased donations, Allied Churches was facing a $20,000-a-month deficit. The board had to come up with some solutions to address these problems, including letting go of Gary, the operations manager and the volunteer coordinator after an executive session Oct. 3, Paul said.

“We actually had to do a reduction in force and lay off people,” Paul said. “We found ourselves in a situation where our income wasn’t matching our expenditures, and we had to reduce expenses. … If we continued on in the way we were, we would have reached a future point where it would have been difficult to meet payroll. We were fortunate that we were able to stop that from happening, and we are actually in a more comfortable point because we want to make sure that the doors are open and we are able to provide shelter for individuals.”

Along with Gary being let go, the outreach team, six interns and five board members resigned. This saved the shelter less than $200,000 annually on payroll and put it in a “strong financial position” for the next few months.

With eight current full-time housing staff members, no more staff cuts are planned for the future.

“Unfortunately, it is terrible thing to have to do, that allowed us to build what we could to continue it forward,” Paul said. “I don’t anticipate we could run a safe shelter with any further reductions in staff, and if it is not safe, we can’t run it.”

As for replacing Gary, Paul did not have an answer. Housing Director Jai Baker has been acting as interim director.

Crisis task force

Allied Churches agreed to seek help from the United Way and other community organizations, such as Impact Alamance, the Salvation Army, Family Abuse Services, Habitat for Humanity and the Burlington Housing Authority.

“United Way is a convener of a lot of nonprofits,” said Norwick. “Our staff and our volunteers serve in a lot of different areas, so we have expertise in a lot of areas or we can call on the people that have expertise. I think Allied Churches reaching out to us and us reaching out back to offer help was we can pull together the business community, the faith community and all those partners that are concerned. People seek us out for the information, so we are kind of the logical convener, I would say.”

Norwick added that the United Way is not taking over Allied Churches; the agency merely brings partners together to find solutions.

One such solution was to form a crisis task force to help the shelter determine what to do moving forward, including “long-term solutions … for viable continuation of services.”

“We have a task force who is doing an evaluation to determine, ‘Are we staffed properly? Are we providing the services we should provide? Are the community organizations that are impacted, our partner organizations, doing what they should be doing? How are we all working together to make sure that we are not putting people on the street?’” Paul said.

Another question the crisis task force is asked to answer is how Allied Churches is going to get its donations back up.

As far as future community meetings, United Way and Allied Churches are waiting until the crisis task force reconvenes with some answers and findings, which could be as late as June 30, Norwick said.

“We don’t have a date for anything right now,” Norwick said. “I think right now we are letting the task force kind of digest information.”

Until then, Paul said it would be irresponsible to comment on what is happening at the shelter. She said that the board has been quiet for the last several weeks as it has had nothing to contribute about the shelter’s progress.

The Salvation Army

The United Way, Allied Churches and several community organizations met Oct. 11 and decided to form the crisis task force as well as immediately turn the food pantry over to the Salvation Army, especially since the food pantry is a “duplicated service.”

“Someone is already doing it, and we are not taking food out of someone’s pantry, essentially, by moving the pantry to the Salvation Army,” Paul said.

The overnight shelter is the most crucial part of Allied Churches, so some parts can be transferred to other agencies, Paul said.

By moving the pantry, the Salvation Army will pick up the food distribution activities, including accepting food donations, while Allied Churches transfer the service completely to the Salvation Army. This includes moving the shelter’s lease at Holly Hill Mall to the Salvation Army, as well as the freezers and refrigerators at the shelter.

“All the stuff in the background, the bureaucracy of making this work, is probably going to happen over about six to eight weeks. It is not going to be instant, but we wanted to make sure that people knew where to go now to get food,” Paul said. “You think, ‘How hard is it to move some canned food from one place to the next?’ It is, unfortunately, a little bit more involved.”

The Salvation Army also is looking into taking over the mobile food delivery service, Paul said, while Allied Churches will keep the community kitchen, which serves about 30,000 meals a year for lunch and dinner and costs about $50,000 to maintain.

“That was something that we believe from everything we have heard from the community that we can continue to do,” Paul said.

Paul hopes the community will continue to fund Allied Churches along with the Salvation Army.

“What we are doing impacts so many people in the community,” Paul said.

Plans

As for Allied Churches’ future, all anyone can do is wait and see what the crisis task force comes up with for the concerns, previous problems and future dreams of the shelter for the homeless population in Alamance County.

Until then, Norwick has offered some solutions the community can help with.

“I can think of one thing that pops up in a lot of our discussions is affordable housing. Allied Churches can do all they can do, and they may have people, but they have to have places for people to be able to have affordable rent, or maybe there are programs where landlords that haven’t rented all their properties help out with a reduced rent to start until somebody becomes a stable tenant,” Norwick said. “I think there are some innovative ways. We have to have places for people to go. We have to have a place for people to work and live.”

The shelter is also gearing up for the Thanksgiving season with their honor cards for purchase and a group to serve a Thanksgiving meal. The shelter is always looking for volunteers to serve meals, Paul said.

“We have a waiting list to serve on Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I get it: It is the time of year where people are thinking about it, right? You want to do that. It is the random Tuesday that we need it more than Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Paul said.

In the meantime, Paul and Norwick ask for patience as they don’t have the answers right now for the shelter.

“This doesn’t happen overnight to get into a situation, and we want to be thoughtful and thorough about the information before we put something out to say, ‘This might be a solution,’ or ‘This might happen,’” Norwick said.

“Unfortunately, it takes time to get good decisions made. Bad decisions can be made very quickly,” Paul said. “Right now, I would say the shelter is open, thank you for the support that the community has given, and please don’t lose hope in us. This community is coming together, and that shelter, I have no doubt, will remain there open serving this vulnerable population to help people make their lives better well into the future. I do not see the community allowing it to fail.”

Reporter Kate Croxton can be reached at kate.croxton@thetimesnews.com or 336-506-3078. Follow her on Twitter at @katecroxtonBTN.