Sanctuary in need
Torres Community Shelter faces major financial shortfall
Last year was marked by success stories at the Torres Community Shelter. The facility in south Chico served more than 700 people, including 54 families with children, and 265 people made the transition into permanent housing.
“When we started as an agency back in ’98, we never wanted and were never going to allow ourselves to be a warehouse,” said Executive Director Brad Montgomery. “We will never be a place that just puts people up and they leave without any change in their lives. Our focus has always been, ‘How do we help this person so that they don’t need services like these anymore?’”
Those efforts are now in jeopardy, however, as the shelter faces a major financial crisis. As it stands, the facility has enough resources only for the next six to eight weeks. Historically, it’s been kept afloat by grants and community donations, but three significant issues are disrupting that funding model.
First, a process to compete for government funding through the Emergency Solutions Grant has been delayed, so it’s unclear whether the shelter can rely on it. Last year, the grant alone covered more than $200,000 in operating costs. “We’re not going to find out anytime soon if we’re even eligible for those funds,” Montgomery said.
The second issue is that the shelter took in fewer donations over the holidays. Typically, contributions during the giving season are used to cover costs during the time of year when donations are low.
The third issue is that the shelter is seeing an increase in demand for its services; for the past few months it has been housing more than 100 people a night.
“When I first got here in 2009, our average was 47 people per night,” Montgomery said. “Then we went through a spike and then it leveled off, then it moved back up to 70, then 80 people per night and last year it was 90 people per night. It used to be that 100 people was a huge amount. Then you get used to that new level of people and that just costs more.”
The shelter extended its operations for about two months by laying off three employees and cutting pay for others, Montgomery said. The staff overwhelmingly understood the circumstances and knew what was necessary to keep providing services, he said.
“Our whole focus in how we address this was how do we minimize the impact as much as possible with our guests, because our first mission is providing a stable place for them to focus on their future and get out of homelessness,” Montgomery said.
In reaction to the financial challenges, Montgomery and the shelter’s board of directors are rethinking the funding model. Instead of relying on unpredictable government grants and strong holiday donations, the shelter wants to get to a point where it can operate independently by covering each month’s expenses, which add up to approximately $50,000. The shelter has a monthly donation program called People Helping People that the board is looking to expand to stabilize its income.
“If we had 1,000 people sign up, that would pretty much eliminate our current financial crisis,” Montgomery said. “If we had 3,000 people who would give us as little as $10 a month, that would not only cover our current financial crisis, but it would [also] get us to a point that we wouldn’t have to rely on a government grant that makes or breaks us.”