Funding issues plague Grass Valley’s Hospitality House |

Funding issues plague Grass Valley’s Hospitality House

Keri Brenner
Staff Writer

When it comes to Nevada County's Hospitality House, this year's financing metaphors are all amusement-park-related: roller-coasters, merry-go-rounds and that guy doing the spinning plates balancing act.

"It's very competitive," said Cindy Maple, executive director of the 8 1/2-year-old homeless shelter, now with its own facility at Utah's Place in Grass Valley. "As a nonprofit agency, you don't ever count on getting grants."

Still, Maple said she is a little taken aback. This is the first year that the shelter — only five months into its permanent 54-bed home – has had cuts in grant funding from multiple sources.

"We have to work really hard to keep our doors open," Maple said this week. "But our focus still has to be to do the work."

Maple said she, her co-founders, her 15-member staff, 150 volunteers and countless community partners always find a way to balance the financing challenges with their devotion to their mission.

"Every single human being has a right to housing and to feel safe in this world," she said. "The solution (to homelessness) isn't jailing people or criminalizing people; it's getting them the help they need."

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But the drumbeat of financing — or lack thereof — continues.

In recent weeks, one application for a community services block grant was rejected. Hospitality House last year had received about $24,000 from the program, administered locally by the Nevada County Adult Family Services Commission. This year, out of the total $60,000 pot, they received zero.

Also, the future of their in-house therapist position — paid for through the county's Behavioral Health department — is in limbo since the resignation last year of popular counselor Kathy Gunz. And Maple said she anticipates having to lay off a part-time outreach case manager if county funding for that job is reduced by $25,000, as expected.

Nevada County officials said they are working hard to find alternate financing.

"We're still very concerned that services are maintained at Hospitality House," said Stewart Knox, director of Nevada County's Health and Human Services Agency. "I'm confident we'll be able to work with them and community members to make sure that happens."

Knox said next Tuesday, Nevada County supervisors will vote on whether to approve a $224,000 allocation of federal community development block grant money to Hospitality House, to be used over the next 30 months.

If the block grant is approved, the shelter plans to use the money, as per grant requirements, to hire a kitchen manager to oversee the 45,000 meals served there annually.

The new kitchen manager will also establish and teach a six-week culinary skills jobs training program to help guests work toward employability and stable housing.

Area chefs will be invited to prepare, teach and cook a special dinner once a week — with the food paid for by the grant.

However, the block grant money won't help pay down the $175,000 debt on the Utah's Place building or contribute to the $300,000 in annual operations costs.

According to Knox, the potential staff funding losses for the therapist and outreach case manager are due to $400,000 in cuts to Nevada County's Behavioral Health department for 2014-15. The cuts are already in place but could be reversed if Gov. Jerry Brown restores some 2011 "realignment" money to the county in his so-called "May Revise" of the state budget, due out next week, Knox said.

"If the money comes back, we can always do some budget amendments," Knox said.

Either way, Knox said he would work with Hospitality House to find sources of money for staffing.

"It's not dead," Knox said of the therapist position.

On Tuesday, Knox sent Maple an application for yet another grant, through the California Endowment, for outreach work.

Maple said the outreach factor is particularly important as a partner with local law enforcement to visit homeless camps and other places where people are in need of help but may not be willing or able to come to Hospitality House.

Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster has assigned Cpl. Brian Blakemore as a liaison to Hospitality House to help on the outreach efforts and to help maintain a positive connection.

Even though the relationship between law enforcement and the homeless population is often challenging and tense, Maple said Blakemore — and his predecessor, former Grass Valley officer Gary McClaughry — are helping to put a human face on law enforcement and to answer questions, such as where to go during the day when guests have to vacate Utah's Place.

"I have compassion for the chief's situation," Maple said. "When he hears complaints from merchants or city council about homeless people or panhandlers in front of the downtown Safeway, he has to respond."

Maple said she doesn't believe that stronger enforcement is the answer — unless the panhandlers are aggressive or bothering people, which Maple said she has never seen in Nevada County.

Just telling the people to move away from the front of the store might be enough, she said.

"I've only seen panhandlers out in front of shopping centers," Maple said. "I usually stop and tell them there are other places to go to get help."

Maple said some Grass Valley police officers have asked her about launching special projects to address panhandling.

She said she welcomes any chance to educate the community on the issue of homelessness, a condition she tells her guests is "temporary," she said.

"I tell them, 'Don't define yourself as homeless,'" she said. "'You're a person who is temporarily without housing.'"

Maple said some residents and neighbors — out of fear, perhaps, that they themselves could become homeless — would rather just close their eyes and hope the homeless issue goes away.

A better solution, she said, is to support Hospitality House and other programs that help people get a leg up.

"As a community, if you don't want to see this, then put a program in place to help them so they're not out there doing this," Maple said. "If we, as a community, don't want to see people out camping illegally or sleeping in doorways, then we need to support the Hospitality House program that helps people change."

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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