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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

More homeless, less funding

Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., is the nonprofit agency that operates the county's shelter system as well as provides an array of services, such as assistance with energy bills, for those at risk of homelessness.

That mission is currently in jeopardy, according to HSP Executive Director Cindy Parr. An increasing number of homeless people seeking shelter assistance along with a decreasing amount of grant money available for shelter services has forced HSP to draw from its general fund to support its shelter program, subsequently placing the sustainably of HSP's homelessness prevention services in peril.

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In short, Parr said, HSP needs more county funding.

"If Carroll County government intends to continue to contract HSP to provide these services, we need your support," she said at a presentation before the Carroll County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

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"This is not your typical request that comes at budget time for small percentage budget increase, but a request for a more realistic base going forward. We are asking for a restructure if you will, a recognition of what is right, what is fair and what is necessary to provide the level of service you have come to expect."

In 2004, HSP housed a total of 315 individuals across all of their shelters, Parr said, none of whom were new to the shelter system. By last year however, the total number in shelters had grown to 522 people, just less than half of whom were new to the system.

There are many reasons for these newly homeless people — loss of jobs in the economic downturn, mental illness or substance abuse, Parr said — but the key factor is that the number has been growing, and it is a population that is not going away any time soon.

It is also homegrown.

"Homeless people are not coming to Carroll County because our agency is here," Parr told the commissioners. "The homeless people in our county are county people. They are people who have lived here, whose families are here."

HSP's total budget in fiscal year 2014 was just less than $4 million, according to Parr, nearly a quarter of which — $945,000 — went to the shelter system, even though the shelters make up just 5 percent of HSP's programming. In addition to the 522 individuals HSP sheltered last year, about 12,000 more were helped through the organization's homelessness prevention programs. Parr said that for every one homeless person, eight more are kept in housing through those prevention programs.

Because of the loss of grants earmarked for shelters however, HSP had to pull $210,000 of that shelter budget from donations and from the $796,390 the organization received in unrestricted funding from Carroll County government in FY14, money meant for HSP's primary mission of preventing homelessness, according to Parr.

"In partnerships like ours, nonprofits are to use their unrestricted monies to maintain strong and healthy infrastructure," she said. "We have not been able to do that because we've spent many years robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Peter's broke. Flat broke."

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Efficiency noted

Despite operating the shelter system with less resources, Parr said HSP is nevertheless very efficient at moving individuals from shelter into transitional or permanent housing, averaging a success rate of about 50 percent across the shelters.

This efficiency in operating the shelters impressed Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who in an interview after the presentation said he was receptive to Parr's request and appreciative of the work the agency has been able to accomplish for the county in lean times.

"They leverage the small amount we give them into millions basically," he said. "Hopefully we can find some more money to give them and all the county funded nonprofits, to be honest with you."

Frazier noted the comments of Carroll County Detention Center Warden George Hardinger, who presented statistics to the board of commissioners along with Parr. When there are not enough beds in the shelters available, Hardinger said many homeless people will commit a petty crime in order to get arrested in order to obtain food and shelter and that Carroll County is currently outsourcing the holding of 16 such individuals to Allegany County at the cost of $45 per night.

The cost per person per night in the HSP shelter system was just under $5 per night, which Frazier said illustrates how funding the shelter system is also a way to save money for the county. It's an opinion shared by Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2.

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"If they cut services, we will end up paying more, eventually. ... We have to be proactive about it," Weaver said. "It's a real need, it's immediate, and they do a great job with it. All we need to do is figure out how to help them."

Not all of the commissioners are as enthusiastic about increasing HSP's funding. Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said he worried that it would be difficult to provide more funding for HSP without cutting funding from other worthy causes.

"I can't give money to one organization without taking it from another," he said. "I do care, and I do think we have obligations to handle our less fortunate brethren, but I can't give something to them without taking it from someone else. Tell me what you're willing to cut."

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Rather than increasing the county's contribution to HSP, Rothschild would like to see HSP and other nonprofits seek out more private funding and volunteer support in the community, although he said he would not rule out allocating the use of county property to assist HSP in its mission.

"These kinds of nonprofits could look toward a private party that could donate another facility and then staff it with volunteers. Perhaps in conjunction with a church," he said. "If the county government can donate a structure, we can look at that."

It might be possible to find some extra money for HSP and other nonprofits without cutting other services however, according to Frazier.

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"We're not funding the Education Opportunity Fund this year, so I am looking at that as $400,000 to use somewhere else," he said.

Weaver also said he would be open to using money that would have gone to the Education Opportunity Fund to help HSP, but at the same time he cautioned that it is still early in the year, with budget season yet to begin in earnest.

"I think we have to look at the whole budget, and see where money won't be allocated and where we have some extra to help" he said. "We are asked by a lot of people for a lot of things. We have to keep an open mind."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.


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