Fayette County

Hope Center seeks additional money from Lexington for homeless shelter

Lexington’s Hope Center.
Lexington’s Hope Center. 2013 Herald-Leader file photo

Hope Center is asking the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council for additional taxpayer dollars for its homeless shelter for men, saying that Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed budget cut some of its funding by $300,000.

But Lexington city officials said the Hope Center, on West Loudon Avenue, received only a small cut in one portion of its overall funding from the city. Hope Center’s total allocation in Gray’s budget is more than $1.6 million, an increase from the current fiscal year’s allocation of $1.5 million. The Hope Center’s allocation from the city has nearly doubled from a little more than $881,400 in 2010 to a proposed $1.6 million for the upcoming year, city records show.

The Hope Center is now pleading its case for more funding to the Urban County Council, which is examining Gray’s $358 million budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The council has until June 30 to pass a budget. Hope Center officials and supporters have sent council members emails urging the council to approve additional funding.

The Hope Center’s allocation has not been discussed in detail in council budget subcommittees yet, two council budget subcommittee chairwomen said last week.

The council could possibly discuss Hope Center’s funding in more detail later this month, said Councilwoman Susan Lamb, who chairs one of the subcommittees that oversees portions of the city’s social service budget.

The city has set aside $3 million for extended social resources grants, commonly referred to as ESR grants. Social service agencies apply to that $3 million fund. Those applications are ranked based on a series of criteria. Emergency shelter for the homeless is one of four categories and received the most funding of the four. The Hope Center received $200,000 for shelter services, $30,000 for food, and $500,000 for other programming at the center, for a total of $730,000, a $300,000 decrease from the current year’s allocation of $1.1 million from the extended social resource grants.

But Gray’s budget proposal includes other funding for Hope Center, including $300,000 for an affordable housing project and $175,000 for a program based in the Fayette County jail, city officials said.

“The reason why they have received so much funding is that they are very good at what they do and they are great partners,” said Charlie Lanter, the city’s director of grants and special programs.

Hope Center officials said they appreciate the city’s support of its many programs, which include mental health services, alcohol and drug addiction, and Housing First, which provides housing for chronically homeless people. But the center can’t move funding from one program to another, said Carrie Thayer, director of development for Hope Center.

“That money is earmarked for those specific programs,” Thayer said. “We run them very well; at the same time, the shelter is the hub of everything that we do.”

Janice James, administrative deputy director for the Hope Center, said there are few funding sources for the emergency shelter, which houses an average of 200 men a night.

“Any reduction in funding impacts the emergency shelter,” James said. “ Even though it is often viewed as the most important service the Hope Center provides, it has the least funding sources and is heavily dependent on local government funding, and donations from the community.”

The Hope Center competed against 88 groups for a portion of the $3 million in extended social resource grants. For emergency shelter funding, it ranked fifth out of six proposals, meaning four groups ranked higher than the Hope Center, according to documents provided by the city.

Still, “it received about 24.1 percent of the total allocation of $3 million,” social service commissioner Chris Ford said. That’s far more than any other group, he said.

“We had $8 million in requests this year,” Ford said.

The grant scoring system looks at program outcomes, the number of people served and other benchmarks to make the system of awarding taxpayer funds to social service agencies fair, Ford said.

Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe chairs the general government and social services budget subcommittee. Bledsoe said her budget subcommittee hasn’t gone into the specifics of the Hope Center’s extended social resource allocation, but the subcommittee has heard some of the agency’s concerns about its funding.

The city has worked over several years to make the competitive grant process more transparent. In previous years, groups have come to the council asking for more funding when their programs didn’t receive it through that competitive grant process. The council has been reluctant to make those additional allocations because they want the process to be fair, Bledsoe said.

“I value the exceptional work of the Hope Center and its strong contribution to our community, but respect the process,” Bledsoe said.

Councilwoman Susan Lamb, who chairs a budget subcommittee whose purview includes social service funding, said the council has a lot of requests for funding but a limited amount of money.

“I would love to find money to fund everybody,” Lamb said. But with $8 million in requests, that’s not possible. “We want to fund as many programs as we can because the work these groups are doing is very important to the community.”

The full council will hear the recommendations of each budget subcommittee later this month.

“It’s possible that it will come up at that time,” Lamb said.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall