Monday, February 9, 2009

Economic times hit local WNY nonprofits

Friday, February 6, 2009
Recession squeezing fragile nonprofits
Business First of Buffalo - by Tracey Drury

Social-service providers are finding out the hard way that “six degrees of separation” applies to nonprofits, too.
In this case, the agencies are connected by clients who shift from one organization to the next, seeking services that may no longer be available due to funding cuts. But many of the agencies seeing greater demand and increased caseloads aren’t even the ones losing state funding.
“When other agencies take a hit financially and their services go down or away, our requests for service go up,” says Doug Fabian, executive director of Crisis Services.
Fabian’s agency is preparing for an uptick in calls that likely will come if anxious parents lose access this spring to a 24-hour hotline telephone service operated by the
Joan A. Male Family Support Center in Buffalo. The center expects to lose $1.1 million – a third of its overall budget – through the state’s planned elimination of the Community Optional Preventive Services (COPS) program.
Layoffs have already begun and ultimately may affect a third of Joan A. Male’s 60 employees. That includes field counselors who go out to visit families to help defuse difficult circumstances and avoid abusive situations.
“Several of our programs are just really critical. They’re in no way optional like the name of that funding stream suggests,” says Deborah Merrifield, executive director. “This is the only option a parent can get that they might need in a crisis.”
Cuts to the program could also affect
Buffalo City Mission, whose shelter for women and children, Cornerstone Manor, is already turning away more than 100 women and children per month.
“About 40 percent of women that come to us come with domestic violence,” says Stuart Harper, executive director. “When you’re dealing with poverty issues, cutbacks of phone support and maybe counseling support almost become more important than the financial support.”
Both the Buffalo City Mission and the Society of
St. Vincent de Paul – neither of which receive state funding – expect that as cuts continue to hit other agencies, their soup kitchen programs will see more and more visitors. .
“Our clients go to the Department of Social Services for services, whether they be housing services of whether they be support programs that would keep them from homelessness,” says Mark Zirnheld, St. Vincent de Paul executive director.
The City Mission may even add a third lunch seating, Harper says.
“We’ll seen an increased demand coming in and for those people leaving us and going out, we will have less support services,” he says. “We’re all in this together.”
New York service providers are not alone: According to the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 45 states faced or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for this and/or next year. Severe fiscal problems are likely to continue into the following year, as well.
State cuts to the COPS program also are affecting
WNY United Against Drugs & Alcohol, which suspended mentoring services in early January at five Buffalo public schools. The program, part of the Closing the GAP initiative, has lost $154,000 for its 12 part-time mentors, supplies and a program coordinator. Similarly, Chautauqua Opportunities expects a $150,000 cut from the state’s Advantage After School program, which provides after-school programming and free meals through partnerships at six area schools.
CEO Roberta Keller says these types of cuts damage relationships, too.
“When a school district willingly engages with a community organization to access a grant, they’re going out on a limb to provide a service and parents in the district start relying on that,” she says.
Which agencies are left to pick up the slack? It could be the Boys & Girls Clubs or
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County, both of which are facing cuts of their own while also seeing a surge in demand for after-school and mentoring help. If kids have nowhere to go, they could end up in trouble with the law and seek help from the First Time, Last Time program run by the National Federation for Just Communities. But that program, which helps limit youth arrests to one though counseling and assistance, is facing a $180,000 cut, too.
Diane Rowe,
Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo president, says the uncertainty is the worst part.
“Without a decision, we’re just caught in this no-man’s land. Do we cut services? Do we say no to families?” she says. “Everyone keeps saying everyone needs to share the pain, but we’re used to working on thin lines with almost nothing. The people that we provide services to are already on the bottom rung of this ladder. There’s nothing left for them to share - and no one’s talking about how all of this will affect them.”
Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, CEO of the
Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, says funders are keeping abreast of the situation and waiting to determine what their role should be. But, she pointed out, the urgency of the state’s current fiscal situation and continued unpredictability of public funding provides a unique opportunity for nonprofit agencies to reassess their mission – and explore new partnerships.
“This is a critical moment for the boards of agencies to take stock, to see who else is providing the services they’re providing and to really embrace innovation in terms of service delivery and innovation with other agencies,” she says.

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