A veteran nonprofit leader whose expertise is helping the homeless told the board of the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League on Tuesday that it is veering dangerously far from its original mission by providing services, such as running the city's overnight shelter.
Monroe County needs SHAL for what it was originally cast to do: Support the service providers in the field, said the Rev. Steve Braddock, president and CEO of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition for the Homeless, at a morning meeting of SHAL's board of directors.
A changing mission
SHAL, a nonprofit formed in 1999 and which reconstituted its board of directors last year to create a 12-member panel, was created to help attract and distribute public grant money to nonprofits across the Florida Keys.
These days, it's not only been managing the city-owned Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) since Oct. 1, but also running a "mobile outreach program" via a recreational vehicle outfitted with an Internet connection and a case manager in search of the island's hidden homeless.
SHAL also began competing with its dues-paying "member agencies," by applying for the coveted pot of money that the county provides through its Human Services Advisory Board.
Last month, that panel rejected SHAL's request for funding, not handing over a cent.
A year ago, SHAL had an annual budget of about $80,000. This year's is more than $600,000, the board heard Tuesday.
No one on SHAL's board -- which this month lost its chairwoman and agency co-founder RaiEtte Avael, who resigned citing personal matters -- quibbled with Braddock's analysis.
"I couldn't agree with you more," said Roger McVeigh, SHAL's treasurer, who repeatedly greeted Braddock's criticism with words of gratitude.
McVeigh added that the board trying to force the city's hand on the homeless shelter issue "is not the way to play ball."
"We need to get clarity on what the future looks like. It's just not moving as fast as we'd like it to."
SHAL last fall agreed to manage KOTS for roughly six months, awaiting the city to put the job out to bid, which it never did.
Its only exit strategy now is Mayor Craig Cates' plan to build a 24-hour emergency shelter at the former Easter Seals property -- a move that lacks details and yet is the city's answer to settling a lawsuit filed by condo owners who want the KOTS shelter on College Road shuttered, given its hasty, process-skipping creation in 2004.
"The city needs to step up, and they're not going to," said Braddock. "The core services of SHAL are suffering because of all this activity."
SHAL originated as an all-volunteer agency more than a decade ago, and only hired an executive director in 2005.
Braddock also took issue with SHAL's recent report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that said Monroe County's "unmet needs" for emergency housing are 30 beds and zero for transitional housing.
KOTS alone needs 30 additional beds, he said.
"I take serious issue with the methodology SHAL used to determine Monroe County's unmet need for emergency beds and transitional housing," Braddock said after the meeting.
SHAL is needed by Monroe County's nonprofits, Braddock said, and he only wants the agency to succeed.
In the nonprofit world, a mission statement is close to a sacred oath with the community -- and those who write checks for donations.
"There's somewhat of a mission drift that's been taking place," Braddock said.
That drift is revealed in SHAL's own literature. Its website says that SHAL is a "community coalition that effectively distributes resources through a network of service providers to people who are homeless" in Monroe County.
On a recent Form 990, which public charities file with the Internal Revenue Service, SHAL calls itself a "community coalition dedicated to special needs of people who are homeless," as well as an advocate for "all community efforts that address homelessness in Monroe County."
Braddock's questions and corrections to SHAL's budget lines stopped the board from adopting its fiscal year 2013 budget Tuesday.
The proposed budget for homeless services alone is $526,717, and aims to cut KOTS employees' salaries by $35 to $150 a month by making them pay more for health care premiums, so that SHAL can save between $3,780 and $11,340.
The health insurance is currently paid in full by the city, costing about $81,000 a year.
Shelter monitors make $12.50 an hour, and the director's salary has been set at $38,500 for several years.
SHAL projects that it spent $463,739 in fiscal year 2012, which ends in 10 days.
Braddock, whose agency ran KOTS from October 2004 until a civil lawsuit prompted FKOC's board to end its contract with the city early, also informed the SHAL board that it needs to determine whether the city has proper "professional liability" insurance to place case managers at the shelter.
"That was a big reason why we were unable to provide social work," said Braddock. "The city did not want to pay for it."
Coles said the city hasn't offered specific plans for the new comprehensive homeless shelter due for the old Easter Seals lot.
She mentioned several proposed items: lockers, storage, laundry machines, a cafeteria, a day room, a picnic table for outside and computers for men and women to use for job-seeking and obtaining benefits such as food stamps.
"I'm not sure the value of the list without any sense of direction from the city," Coles said.
More budget issues
Tuesday's SHAL board meeting drew Venita Garvin Valdez, the longtime executive director of the Keyswide Domestic Abuse Shelter, and Diana Flenard, executive director of MARC House.
Flenard told the board that SHAL's idea to shave 10 percent of $474,564 in HUD funding is illegal, since that money is dedicated to existing direct services.
Braddock corrected the budget's numbers on the lines for workers' compensation.
McVeigh said that one budget line was a "typo," and agreed to take it back to SHAL's finance committee.