Three weeks after Killeen’s homeless shelter closed its doors, the facility’s short-term future remains in doubt.
When the Friends in Crisis shelter shut down on May 18, 75 people had to find other accommodations, and about 10 employees were suddenly out of work.
Families in Crisis, the nonprofit organization that oversees the shelter, tried in vain to keep the shelter running, but the loss of nearly $175,000 in grant money proved to be too big a hurdle.
That’s not surprising, since the shelter costs about $30,000 a month to run — so $175,000 represents almost half of the facility’s annual operating costs.
Last week, a Families in Crisis representative went before the Killeen City Council to request funding from the city in the amount of $10,000 per month plus $60,000 in up-front help to bridge the funding gap until anticipated grant money arrives in October.
Council members were receptive to the request but ultimately passed the decision on to City Manager Ron Olson, who is in the process of preparing the city’s budget for fiscal year 2019-2020.
Certainly, Olson has a lot to consider. The city also has been asked for another $100,000 per year from the Hill Country Transit Association to help fund operations of the regional Hop bus system. Another priority is adequately funding the city’s police and fire departments. The city also has significant infrastructure challenges, as Killeen is embarking on a major street repair initiative.
With limited revenue available, Olson will have to juggle expenditures in order to come up with a workable, balanced budget in the coming weeks — and funding for the shelter will no doubt be in the mix.
In the meantime, however, the shelter remains closed — and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick said council members are getting some calls urging the city to help.
But there are others who think the city has done quite enough. Killeen kicked in $510,564 in 2013 as part of a federal community development block grant to help pay for a complete renovation of the $1.4 million building, which used to be a church. The city provided an additional $250,000 in February 2014, before the shelter opened its doors in December 2015.
Certainly, whatever the city does moving forward must be part of a larger strategy for reopening the shelter and sustaining its operations. It would be counterproductive to work to get the shelter back up and running, only to close it again a few months down the road.
To date, Families in Crisis has appealed for donations through traditional and nontraditional routes.
According to figures provided to the Herald by Families in Crisis Vice President Larry Moehnke, the organization — which also oversees the Families in Crisis abuse shelter — has received about $33,500 in donations and fundraising. Federal money and Killeen block grant donations account for another $71,273, for a total 2019 budget of $104,793.
That’s a far cry from the nearly $368,000 in expenses the organization has budgeted.
On Thursday, Moehnke submitted both a business plan and a fundraising plan to the Killeen City Council, as requested by Council members Gregory Johnson and Shirley Fleming.
Indeed, sharing financial reports and fundraising strategies with the city and the public are needed. If residents are to be persuaded to offer their financial support to the shelter’s operations, it’s imperative that they can see firsthand how their money is being used.
Simply stated, transparency is key.
And to be fair, a substantial lack of transparency surrounded the shelter’s closing in May.
Families in Crisis board members learned in October that they were losing $123,000 in grant money. The problem was magnified when the board was informed in March that another grant was reduced from $93,500 to $51,273.
No matter how efficiently the shelter was running at that point, board members likely knew it would be difficult — if not impossible — to fully replace that funding loss.
While the board is to be commended for working hard to keep the shelter operating for six months since the initial loss of grant funds, the fact remains that the shelter’s closing wasn’t announced until a few days before the facility shut its doors.
That is not just a disservice to the shelter’s clients and employees, but also to the community.
If the board had made the public aware of the shelter’s funding loss and potential closing earlier this year, churches, businesses and individuals may have been quick to answer the call. It’s possible a fundraising initiative back in March or early April could have generated enough financial support to make a difference — at least in the short term.
But given the abrupt timeline for the shelter’s closing, concerned residents were not able to get involved until it was too late to keep the doors open.
However, it’s not too late to get involved now.
The Friends in Crisis shelter is a valuable asset to our community. Just since the start of the year, it served more than 240 new clients until it was forced to close its doors. The facility averaged more than 70 people a night — many of them women and children. And about 15 percent of them were veterans.
Every day the shelter remains closed is another day that the homeless among us must find another place to sleep, to get a hot meal and a shower. It’s also another day where many of these people spend fearing for their safety.
Obviously, something must be done to rectify the situation. It’s likely a combination of church support, business donations, city funding and grants will be needed to get the shelter into the black and keep it there.
Families in Crisis board members plan to partner with community members and organizations on fund-raising activities. Members also plan to make presentations to local clubs, churches and organizations in an attempt to raise operating funds.
In addition, FIC officials are optimistic that more grant money will become available in October, which could ease the funding pinch. Obviously, however, grant funding isn’t always a given.
No matter what the final solution is for reopening and running the homeless shelter, it’s one that we should support as a community.
The shelter’s successful operation is not just something that matters to those in need; it is also a reflection of the city’s spirit of generosity and level of caring.
Our community has distinguished itself in these areas, frequently stepping up to meet the needs of those in need.
It’s time to shine once again.