Home Sweet Home cuts back shelter services

Posted on October 12, 2007. Filed under: Articles and News (HOP), Miscellaneous |

BLOOMINGTON — A nearly $1 million deficit over three years forced Home Sweet Home Ministries to cut its staff and occupancy in half and prompted a restructuring of its services.

That change — focusing on long-term changes rather than quick-fix measures for the homeless — has another social service agency concerned about meeting needs this winter.

“I’m very saddened by all the difficulties Home Sweet Home is facing,” said Karen Zangerle, executive director of PATH, the agency that coordinates homeless services in the Twin Cities and oversees Compassion Center, which offers daytime services.

“They (Home Sweet Home) are really the only source of beds for women and children,” Zangerle said. “I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen this winter if they are down by half.”

While PATH has some federal money to put homeless in a hotel for a night or two, Zangerle said if there are a lot of needs, the money will be gone “very, very quickly.”

But Bob Beerup, president of Home Sweet Home’s board of directors, said “There are no plans to abandon temporary services” and he doesn’t think there will be an issue meeting the winter needs of the homeless.

Rus Kinzinger, chief executive officer of Home Sweet Home, agreed even though the mission is serving only 40 to 50 adults a night, below its 110 capacity.

“The winter is a time when our numbers are the least,” Kinzinger said.

On average the mission serves about 258 people a month, he said. The numbers dip to as low as 234 a month in the winter, he added.

“As CEO, if there is an urgent need in the community to provide services in the winter, we would shift our priorities and do that. We’re not going to let the need go unmet,” he said.

Kinzinger believes the shift in the Home Sweet Home mission is what its donors want. But he also admitted it was prompted by the three-year deficit. According to tax forms, Home Sweet Home reported a deficit of $333,761 in fiscal year 2004-2005 (from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005) and $454,858 in fiscal year 2005-06.

Kinzinger said the agency currently is undergoing an audit of its financial statements for fiscal year 2006-07, so that report is not available. However, he said, it, too, will show a deficit estimated at about $200,000.

“We are now operating on a balanced budget,” Kinzinger said of fiscal year 2007-08, which is only about three months old.

Kinzinger said the agency consciously went into debt for Threshold, a multi-month program designed to help homeless people become independent. Agency officials hoped federal grants and community donations would erase the deficit but the grants that were promised did not come through.

In late spring, officials decided staff would have to be laid off to make up for the deficit. The lack of staff led to serving fewer people.

Julie Roth, director of client services at Home Sweet Home, said the agency had about nine social service associates, case managers and counselors the first of the year. There now are 4 ½ employees in that area — only two of which are full-time.

Roth said only one staff member and one work-study student is at the shelter in the evenings and on weekends.

“That’s the absolute minimum in my eyes,” Roth said.

She estimated she would need at least an additional $100,000 to bring staff to its full level for a year.

Kinzinger said even with additional money, the new focus of the mission would remain. And, although Kinzinger will only be head of the agency until July when he retires, he apparently has the backing of the board.

“The board continually thinks and prays about how to articulate our mission and vision,” said Beerup.

The board has focused on that in depth lately, Beerup said, so it will have a mission in place before it seeks a new CEO — something that is expected to start by the first of next month.

“Do today’s realities still take the same approach?” he asked. “Is our mission the same?”

Like Kinzinger, the board seems to be leaning toward a blend of Home Sweet Home’s current programs: Threshold, which has graduated 22 out of the 90 people who have enrolled; and its temporary shelter program, which offers shelter for one night or a few.

Roth said the agency relies heavily on volunteers to offer programs that can lead to long-term solutions for the homeless it serves. Volunteers offer parenting classes, some are mentors, and others offer activity classes. Some State Farm volunteers help with filling out job applications or creating a resume, she said.

“It comes down to where can we have our greatest impact with finite dollars,” Kinzinger said. “It’s the best of Threshold, the best of temporary services.”

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