Hot Topic Re-set. Column by Sharon Byrne, originally published 2/9/12
When you think about helping the homeless, what do you envision? Giving a dollar here and there to a panhandler? Giving someone a sleeping bag? Helping someone find a job? Many of us think of what we can contribute on a personal level to help.
Organizationally, I guess there’s a comforting image in our collective psyches that churches are, or were, the sanctuary of the poor and destitute. There are charities too, that distribute food, clothing, and aid to the homeless and working poor. Then I remember stories like the Matchstick Girl, or A Tale of Two Cities, and with it, my mum’s British saying, used to describe chilly weather:
It’s cold as charity.
I often encounter homeless individuals who insist the shelter off lower Milpas is terrible, that everyone’s on drugs, drinking and/or insane in there, that the staff just cares about making themselves rich, and not about truly helping the homeless.
In my line of work, one always has to remember that all grievances have a back-story behind them, and an agenda to follow. One has to work a little to ferret out from the aggrieved what is actually going on. Unfortunately, the homeless don’t always render themselves the most credible persuaders, darn it. When a guy is weaving, blasting beer breath at me, and exhorting outrage over his unfair treatment at the hands of shelter staff, my first reaction is to laugh. Not appropriate, I know. So I try to hear him out, look at the world through his eyes a moment, and attempt to discern the outlines of the bit of enlightenment struggling for revelation. When I hear a similar thread emerging across multiple stories, it signifies to me that there are two possibilities here:
- They all sit around somewhere, and craft, and then rehearse the stories so they’ll be believable OR
- There’s some vein of truth here that warrants closer inspection
The first possibility probably does happen, but requires planning, coordination, and not just a bit of stage management to pull off. That’s a lot of effort for some of these guys to consistently sustain.
So I am leaning to the second possibility – when multiple people tell you something, look into it.
This rambling intro is in prelude to what I suspect is an eye-opener for many of us.
There is actually a lot of money involved in helping the homeless.
The form 990 for Casa Esperanza Homeless Center on Cacique St, right off lower Milpas, is ‘here’ (PDF left). You can get this from Guidestar, a site that contains public reporting information for all kinds of charities.
Some highlights, in case you don’t have time to pore through 32 pages of tax return data:
Revenues: Contributions and grants: $2.75 million. This is up from the previous year’s $2.2 million. They received $963,093 in government grants, and $1.6m in contributions.
(There’s at least one sector of the economy in recovery….)
Salaries, Compensation and employee benefits: $1.5m, up from $1.2m last year.
Fundraising expenses: $251,334.
Total expenses were $3.3m. So they ran a deficit,. Revenues minus expenses = -546,616.
Total assets: $5.4m. The land, buildings, and equipment was worth $6m, before depreciation.
The Executive Director is paid $123,412 annually.
Transactions involving interested persons, i.e., directors on the board. David Peri earned $233,000 as the CFO, nearly 10% of the annual revenues. They also paid Juliana Minsky, another board director, $4,500 for Public Relations Services.
Keep in mind these are the finances for one shelter. We have four in the city.
Casa Esperanza is the only one that serves people not willing to enter sobriety programs. It shelters up to 200 in the winter months, and has a daily feeding. It often holds up one or two success stories, lending the impression of widespread results. But for those living and working in and around Milpas, who see some of the same individuals on the street, sometimes year after year, after 12 years of the shelter’s existence, the questions they ponder are:
For all the money that has been spent, is still being spent, and what it’s being spent on…
How well is the city really tackling this issue?
Could it be done better?
Some will read this article, and think ‘$2m a year… 12 years! Give me $2m, and I’ll fix this problem tomorrow!’
Circling back to the homeless individuals that report things are not great in the shelter…. maybe they’re mad because they got kicked out. Perhaps they’re upset over some slight, real or imagined, they feel staff inflicted on them.
Or maybe they’re seeing something we’re not, from the inside.
Something that needs looking into.