[Hpn] If money talks, Beittel's not listening - Why the Open Shelter is willing to forfeit $445,000 a year. willing to forfeit $445,000 a year.

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Fri, 28 Apr 2000 11:14:54 -0500

If money talks, Beittel's not listening - Why the Open Shelter is willing to
forfeit $445,000 a year.

By Josh Caton
Reprinted by Permission of THE OTHER PAPER

 Kent Beittel has worked without a safety net before.

The Open Shelter's executive director, along with the shelter's board, made a
decision last week to forfeit one third of its annual budget, and they did so
with no idea how it will be replaced. Or whether it will be replaced at all.

But when Beittel -- whose name is synonymous with homeless care in Columbus-
says his organization will carry on without that half a million dollars, there's
a tendency to believe him.

He's made bigger leaps of faith in the past.

"When we opened this place, we had four days worth of money," Beittel said this

That was l6 years ago.

Now, as in those lean early days, Beittel is once again calling on faith to keep
his Scioto Peninsula shelter up and running.

"That faith," he said, "is the only thing that even allowed this agency to keep

The Open Shelter folks left half a million dollars on the table last week when
they informed the Community Shelter Board -- the agency that distributes city
funding to local shelters -- that they didn't want to run a proposed new shelter
north of downtown, near the state fairgrounds.

The $445,959 a year the CSB now pays to the Open Shelter will be reallocated to
the new facility. That leaves the Open Shelter with a sizable hole in its $1.2
million cash budget.

Beittel said that prospect has him "scared to death." But he believes somehow,
some way, the people of Columbus will come through.

"I really do genuinely believe that the reason the Open Shelter receives the
support it does is because people understand our mission," he said. "They will
not allow us to get caught in a situation where we can no longer serve these

That's not exactly a contingency plan. But it's not necessarily blind faith,

"There are donors and church groups that number in the thousands," said Open
Shelter board president Matt McClellan. That kind of backing . . . boosts our

After years at ground zero, caring for the men who are arguably in more dire
straits even than other homeless people, Beittel has developed a very specific
set of beliefs about how to go about his business. And he simply couldn't accept
the conditions the CSB placed on the operator of the new facility and remain
true the Open Shelter's mission.

For instance, the new shelter, to be located at the former Anchor Press site on
Corrugated Way at 8th Avenue, will be required to expel men after 60 days.
That's counter to the Open Shelter's mission of providing service for as long as
it's needed.

But the real dealbreaker, according to Beittel, was that the Open Shelter would
have to close the doors on its 16-year home at 370 W. State St.

The Rebuilding Lives plan, the community master plan for shelters, calls for the
relocation of the Open Shelter out of Franklinton, home of the new COSI and
Veteran's Memorial, and -- its residents and business people hope -- fertile
ground for new economic development.

Beittel said the shelter has been trying to move for a decade to a site that
better meets the needs of its clients. But, he added, the Open Shelter can't
simply move north and abandon the men who rely on it without other support
services in place downtown.

"What happens to the people we leave behind?" he said.

CSB Executive Director Barbara Poppe said the county's four homeless shelters
don't restrict their services to people from the surrounding areas; they're
available to anyone who needs service. And, she said, Rebuilding Lives does
include plans for support services in the downtown area.

The plan calls for 800 "supportive housing" units -- permanent housing that
comes with such added services as job training, budgeting classes and mental
health care. There are also plans for outreach programs to move long-term
shelter users into housing and interim housing for men, who temporarily have no
place to stay.

That's great in theory, said Beittel. But the problem, he said, is the CSB is
asking the Open Shelter to put the cart before the horse by moving out of
Franklinton before those services are in place.

Thirty of those planned 800 housing units are currently operational, Poppe said.
Another 25 will be up by the end of summer, and 200 units in are in a "concept
phase." She said there will be resources available for the Open Shelter's
patrons by the time the Anchor site shelter opens next summer.

But until those resources are in place, Beittel said, "A person cannot live in a
<I>picture</I> of enriched housing."

Poppe said the CSB is not happy with the Open Shelter's decision, primarily
because of the long hours the two sides put in to try to get a relocation deal
done. The Open Shelter had originally showed a great deal of interest in the new
site, she said.

The CSB will decide May 1 whether to award the contract for the new shelter to
Lutheran Social Services, the only group that submitted a proposal to run it.

While it will be out half a million when the new shelter opens, the Open Shelter
is not exactly penniless. The shelter does receive considerable in-kind
contributions of clothes, medicine, meals -- so much that when a dollar figure
is placed on those contributions, Beittel said the shelter's annual budget jumps
from $1.2 million to $2.5 million.

But even if it doesn't recoup a cent of the lost CSB funding, Beittel said the
Open Shelter will stay open and make some tough decisions about what services it
can afford to provide.

"We'll do the best we can for the guys with whatever we have," Beittel said.

And if the Open Shelter does eventually have to close its doors?

"People would find out by the weekend there's been a mistake," Beittel said. And
he's sure they'd find a way to fix it, with or without the Open Shelter.

"I cannot believe this community is prepared to be that callous, to step over
men on the sidewalks."

Josh Caton, If money talks, Beittel's not listening, THE OTHER PAPER, April 27 -
May 3, 2000 at 3.

H. C. Covington, Executive Director
I CAN! America,  LLC
Resource Consultants

Homeless & Housing Resource Center
1.800.678.5774   Fax 1.505.209.2619