Fairbanks area resource agencies providing assistance to low-income and homeless residents are shell-shocked after Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced his laundry list of operating budget vetoes Friday, slashing some agencies' grant-funded budgets by more than half.
For many nonprofit resources in Fairbanks, one of the biggest concerns is the interconnection between different agencies. Jason Kempthorne, with nonprofit low-income and homeless assistance agency Love INC, noted that this interlinking of agencies has previously been viewed as one of the most positive aspects of the Fairbanks area agency family.
“We’ve set up meetings between agency heads and we say ‘We can’t do this but maybe you can’; that’s how we work together. When one might not be able to do it all, we have all of us,” Kempthorne said. “We work very closely together to fill the gaps in the community.”
But now, with massive grant cuts and significant reductions in state funding of social services looming, Kempthorne said the interconnection will increase the effect each agency feels.
“We’re so intertwined because we’re intentional about it,” Kempthorne said, noting his concern about ripple effects from one cut agency to another.
Love INC serves about 1,500 families a year providing assistance with case management services, education and prevention services, financial education and poverty prevention education and transportation along with a running a rotating family shelter throughout the year.
The agency receives about $30,000 a year through the Human Services Community Match grant, which the state funds through the borough. This is about enough to fund one full-time salaried position, and while that doesn’t seem all that much of a hit, Kempthorne noted that the potential loss has extensive trickle down effects.
“This is one of our program staff. For us that one staff member oversees a large group of volunteers who do a lot of the actual case management in the community,” Kempthorne said. “So her position facilitates about 25 volunteers and subsequent cases. We only have six staff members total and when you’re looking at cutting one of those, you’re going to have to cut a whole program.”
At this point, Kempthorne and his colleagues are in the process of evaluating which services are the most important, a difficult task when each program is critical to community assistance, he added.
Perhaps the most prominent concern, however, is the timeframe of it all, Kempthorne noted.
“For us it’s going to be an immediate hit. A lot of these grants pay out the first portion during the summer. The grant we receive, one of the first checks we get comes in July,” he said.
Marylee Bates, with the Fairbanks Youth Advocates, noted the effects on her organization are drastic. Fairbanks Youth Advocates runs The Door, a local shelter for homeless youth. The Door receives about $189,000 annually through a Basic Homeless Assistance Program grant, or BHAP.
“Losing that is losing about 59% of our budget for shelter coverage,” Bates said.
One of the challenges the organization faces is their categorization as a licensed residential child-care facility.
“We have to operate 24/7 with two staff on every shift, every day of the year,” Bates said, explaining that by regulation, the facility is required to have one full-time staff member per every six youth.
The facility has a 12-resident capacity.
“Capacity goes up and down all the time. It depends on the time of the month, it depends on the season, the weather, all sorts of things,” Bates said. “We could run with only one staff but as soon as the seventh youth shows up we need another staff.”
Figuring out where to cut an already lean budget is presenting a challenge, Bates said.
“There’s nothing to cut. Almost all of our income goes to shelter coverage,” Bates added. “We get a lot of donations from the community already. We could maybe get more trash bags, but I don’t think that’s going to make up for losing that much money.
Ultimately, if the vetoes stick, Bates anticipates that The Door may have to close.
“I don’t know how you operate a 24/7 shelter with only 40% of your previous funding,” she said. “I mean, do the math.”
The Fairbanks Rescue Mission, a local Fairbanks shelter that has been open for more than 40 years, has recently announced the budget cuts would eliminate $300,000 of anticipated funding from its budget, presenting extreme difficulties in future operations.
“The Fairbanks Rescue Mission has worked hard to be self-sufficient, earning income from our community recycling contract and management of Twin Bears. We are also extremely frugal with the money we receive, housing people through rapid rehousing funds at half the cost of other bigger cities,” a recent Facebook post from the Fairbanks Rescue Mission page reads. “Even so, we cannot afford to offer the same services to those facing crisis, if the state pulls out of helping those facing homelessness. The end result of the elimination of these funds are more people wandering the streets, severely reduced services for youth, prolonged homelessness for those in emergency shelter, more mental health crises, more evictions that could be prevented, more people languishing in addiction.”
Along similar lines, Brenda Stanfill, executive director for the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living, fears for the future of some of the center’s housing programs that are looking at a possible 75% reduction in funding.
“It’s going to close down one complete house we have for individuals who are affected by trauma in their lifetime and are having difficulties being housed in traditional means,” Stanfill said. “Closing that house will mean there will be eight individuals who will immediately lose their housing.”
The center receives a large portion of its funding through three grants: The Special Needs Housing Grant, the Human Services Community Match grant and Homeless Assistance Program grant.
Losing all three means losing $230,000 in annual funding.
“A lot of our utility assistance comes from the homeless funding and we still have to pay the utilities, we have to keep the lights on, so where is that money going to come from? One of our programs,” Stanfill said. “There’s never any fluff in our budget. When there’s any kind of cut it comes into our core because that’s all we have.”
Stanfill noted a complete loss of prevention dollars, funding that typically means emergency housing for 30 people.
“We will now have zero prevention dollars to ensure that individuals who experience domestic violence or sexual assault remain housed,” Stanfill said. “This impacts people regardless of economic status and this can mean the difference between life or death.”
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMPolitics.