Times are tough for local nonprofits as the cost of providing services is increasing while money available from government grants is decreasing.
“The writing is on the wall; it’s only through increased private sector donations that we will be able to continue to deliver the level of services we have in the past,” Monte Hawver, executive director of the Brother Francis Shelter, wrote in the homeless shelter’s newsletter.
Hawver said in a recent interview that his organization is very grateful for money received from the city and borough, both of which provide grants to local nonprofits.
“Kodiak has supported us (the shelter) tremendously throughout my 26 years here,” he said.
However, he said that a sea change is occurring in which governments can no longer afford to dole out large grants.
Budget constraints for the city and borough have meant a decline in local funding for the shelter, though this year the city contributed more than in the prior year.
“We basically went to a high of $70,000 a few years ago to … this year we got $43,000,” he said. “That may not sound like a lot to a larger organization, but to a small one like our’s, it’s a significant hit.”
Hawver said that cost inflation for items the shelter purchases – food, utilities and insurance – is skyrocketing, and the increased prices are coming at a time when the shelter’s services are increasing in demand.
The shelter began in 1991, and clientele has shifted since then. Hawver said the homeless population in the early days was mostly itinerant.
“Within a couple of years, we realized there were some significant challenges that created homelessness, and one of them was mental health,” Hawver said. That realization led to behavioral health services being offered at the shelter through Providence’s mental health center.
Another discovery was how much turmoil spread through the community when a family became homeless.
“That bleeds over into the schools and many other parts of the community,” Hawver said. “So, we developed a homeless prevention program.”
The program can help families pay bills through rental and utility payments.
Hawver said the shelter also feeds families that have enough to keep their homes but not enough for anything else.
“We’ll feed pretty much anyone who comes in here,” he said.
The prevention program has seen a large increase in participation. Whereas the shelter’s staff would assist 50 families a few years ago, they are helping about 300 families now.
The shelter also has male and female dormitories for people to stay overnight.
Downstairs, there’s a conference room used for 12-step programs. A commercial kitchen and food pantry feeds the shelter’s guests.
Hawver said that overall the shelter is doing well. But potential decreases in funding combined with more need in the community could make things difficult in the future.
“That’s a significant concern when you go from paying your bills and sticking a little bit in savings to breaking even or a little less than breaking even,” he said. “Where it would become startling is if the larger grants from the state dried up. It would take a major change in the business plan to deal with that. But we take it year by year. This year, the state funded us. Unfortunately, you never know at this point in time what the next year is going to bring, but we’ll pray for the best.”
Asked why the shelter was important for Kodiak, Hawver said it saves lives. “The most significant thing that we’ve accomplished as a shelter is the fact that no individual has died due to the elements since we opened in 1991. Prior to that, multiple individuals – pretty much every year – perished from the elements.”