Fund police "homeless" program, nix Urban Ministry, Palo Alto, CA

Tom Boland (
Thu, 18 Mar 1999 16:01:25 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  San Jose [CA, USA] Mercury News - Sunday, March 14, 1999


     Block grant: In change of strategy, Palo Alto will fund
     police program, not Urban Ministry.

     By Ron Kitagawa - Mercury News Staff Writer

In a move aimed at focusing Palo Alto's vision for helping the homeless, a
city advisory committee will recommend that the city council not grant
funding to Urban Ministry, the city's sole provider of ``survival''
services for the homeless.

But, according to one official, Palo Alto is not abandoning efforts to aid
the homeless -- it is just setting new priorities. The city wants to fund
programs that focus on rehabilitation, said Suzanne Bayley, the coordinator
of the city's block grants. ``The goal,'' she said, ``is to be moving
(people) out of homelessness and into housing.''

Urban Ministry, she said, has distributed hot meals, blankets and bus
passes and offers drop-in services. ``We (the city) wanted to target our
funds to the next level of services,'' she said. The group should continue
providing those basic services and the city ``should build on that.''

The ministry has asked for about $62,000 of a federal block grant. The
advisory committee will recommend that the city council give nothing to
Urban Ministry and instead give $60,000 to the police department, which
wants to start its own program for the homeless. That plan would include
hiring a public health nurse and a clinical social worker to deal directly
with the homeless.

``There wasn't enough in this pot of money'' to fund both the Urban
Ministry request and the police department request, Bayley said.

In most cases, the city council follows the recommendation of the advisory
committee, with some minor changes, Bayley said. But some items, such as
Urban Ministry, may generate more discussion than others.

Donna Smith-Powers, Urban Ministry's director of operations and personnel,
said she wonders if the committee misunderstands what services the group

``Is the Palo Alto city advisory committee awake to the fact that Urban
Ministry of Palo Alto has four case managers helping people with
rehabilitation on a daily basis?'' she asks. Along with survival services,
the group offers a psychiatric case worker twice a week, a mobile health
clinic twice a month and a doctor every week.

Tom Conn, president of Urban Ministry's board of directors, understands the
city must make funding choices, but said the advisory committee isn't
seeing the big picture. ``To take the people who are in the trenches and
make them work even harder seems a little strange,'' he said.

The $62,000 Urban Ministry is requesting would make up about 11 percent of
the group's $550,000 budget, Conn said. He plans to appear before the
finance committee April 6 to argue the group's case. ``We haven't given up
on (the money). . . . We are disappointed, not discouraged,'' he said.

Another obstacle for Urban Ministry will be changing the city council's
perception of the organization. Ten years ago, said Mayor Gary Fazzino,
Urban Ministry was a highly regarded facilitator of homeless services for
the city. But since then, he said, the leadership has been lacking. ``I
believe in the Urban Ministry and think it's important to have an agency
like that in the community,'' said Fazzino, who hasn't yet made up his mind
on the funding issue. ``The fundamental issue is they (Urban Ministry) have
to get their act together and find an outstanding (executive director),''
he said.

Conn admits there has been some frequent turnover in leadership, but said
the executive board has always moved swiftly to rectify any problems. ``The
executive board has always been made up of good managers,'' he said.

Smith-Powers added, ``In spite of staff turnover, services have not slowed
down and Urban Ministry has never stopped providing services in an
efficient and caring manner.''

A search committee -- which includes Councilwoman Dena Mossar -- is working
to find a new leader for the group, which has had three executive directors
in as many years. The committee hopes to hire an executive director by
April 15.

Mossar, also a member of the city council's finance committee, wouldn't
comment on the specific recommendations by the city's advisory committee.
But she said, ``In general, I am committed to services for the homeless.''

She added that Urban Ministry will continue to be one of many groups under
the umbrella of homeless services. ``I don't think it is anyone's intention
for Urban Ministry to disappear,'' Mossar said.


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