Crack in the continuum

Service providers shocked as Stairways Programming snubs federal grant funding

Thomas Tenorio informs service providers that Stairways Programming didn’t accept grant money awarded in 2016.

Thomas Tenorio informs service providers that Stairways Programming didn’t accept grant money awarded in 2016.

Photo by Ken Smith

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With scarcity of funding a constant source of concern for agencies dedicated to addressing homelessness, local service providers are reeling from the recent revelation that one of their peers, Stairways Programming, willingly walked away from $72,000 in federal grant money approved last year and earmarked for a project to provide transitional housing for LGBT individuals.

In defending his decision to leave the money on the table, Stairways’ executive director, Michael Madieros, lashed out at the body responsible for coordinating those grants locally, the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care (CoC). During a recent interview, Madieros cited a lack of technical and other support from and a general distrust of the CoC as the main reasons Stairways decided not to take the money. He further said his organization likely will no longer participate in the multi-agency panel or pursue government grant funding.

“We decided it wasn’t worth sending email after email and going to endless meetings to try get things done, and we’re sick of fighting against the agency that’s meant to help us,” Madieros said. “We’d rather spend that time out on the streets doing what we’re meant to do, which is helping people.”

The CoC is a multi-agency body overseen by the Butte County Housing Authority and composed of representatives from local service organizations with the shared goal of combating homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that regional CoCs are formed to facilitate delivery of grant funds and coordinate local efforts.

Thomas Tenorio, chair of the local CoC and CEO of the Community Action Agency of Butte County (which oversees the Esplanade House), publicly announced at a CoC meeting on Monday (July 17) Stairways’ decision not to claim last year’s grant money. The announcement came as agencies are gearing up for this year’s funding cycle, with applications due at the end of August.

“A value we’ve always embraced is, ‘How can we make resources available to the broadest number of folks in the community as possible?’” Tenorio said at the meeting. “And yet we note that these resources are not for the faint of heart. Federal and state funding come with the usual kinds of obligations and responsibilities and what have you, so it’s incumbent on all the grantees to be able to meet those requirements.”

Tenorio explained that once grants are awarded, agencies deal directly with HUD. Because of that arrangement, Tenorio said the CoC wasn’t aware Stairways hadn’t accepted the $72,000 it was awarded until last week, when he was checking in to see if the organization would apply for grants this year.

Several people at the meeting expressed concern that Stairways’ decision not to take the funds could affect the amount of money HUD allocates to Butte County in the future; Tenorio said that funding availability for 2017 is the same as it was last year, with $545,894 to be divvied up among the highest ranked local applicants.

Some still had concerns that $72,000 allocated for Butte County went unclaimed and therefore was unused on local community members in need.

“Where’s the accountability?” asked Laura Cootsona, executive director of the Jesus Center. “I’m glad we didn’t lose money moving forward, but what can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

That led others to suggest a more robust monitoring system, particularly for first-time grantees. Others in attendance lamented the loss of funds to the community, prompting Anastacia Snyder, executive director of Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, to speak up.

“What about lost services?” she said. “We identified gaps that we didn’t meet as a community and those gaps went unfilled.”

Catalyst has been awarded HUD grants through CoC for the last two years, including $81,577 for rapid rehousing of domestic violence victims in 2016.

“HUD is a huge government agency and there can be some frustrations,” Snyder said by phone. “It’s a laborious system, but it’s not insurmountable, and it’s important to utilize these precious resources to address the specific issues they’re allocated to.”

Interviewed Tuesday (July 18) at Stairways Programming’s recently opened Harm Reduction Center, Madieros gave reasons for the agency’s decision to pass on grant funds. Among his chief complaints was that HUD requires grantees use specific software to collect demographic and other information about homeless individuals they serve, but that in Butte County these systems aren’t fully developed or adapted for Stairways—responsibilities that lie with the CoC. Madieros said his appeals for support went unresolved. Tenorio countered that Madieros had been unclear about his problems with the software systems.

Madieros said Stairways did accept a $75,000 Emergency Solutions Grant awarded by the state last year for outreach. Stairways had planned to open Opportunity House—transitional housing for LGBT individuals outlined in its federal grant application—by this October, but has put the project on the backburner. He says the community didn’t suffer a loss of service, as Stairways offers priority placement for LGBT individuals at its three current housing facilities.

“We’re just going to concentrate on what we do,” Madieros said of Stairways, which is primarily funded by those it serves and from outside donations. “We’ll just keep turning over our data that says this is what works, and people will continue to support us.”