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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Local homeless shelter shuttered?

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Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 1:22 am | Updated: 5:51 pm, Fri Nov 9, 2012.

The Culpeper Homeless Shelter needs the community’s financial support to stay open. The bottom-line amount needed to keep the emergency housing operation running is $80,000, according to Cheryl Carter, director of Culpeper Community Development Corp, the longstanding nonprofit group that runs the shelter.

“I don’t think it happened overnight,” she said of dwindling finances to support the shelter program launched in 1988 by affordable housing visionary Sam Aitken, who retired earlier this year.

Instead, the homeless shelter funding shortfall happened gradually with local, state and federal grants and private community contributions reduced or eliminated in the down economy, Carter said.

And yet the persistent recession and lingering housing crisis continues to generate even more need for housing assistance among working and lower income families struggling to make ends meet. Here in lies the dilemma.

By and large, single women with children occupy CCDC’s 15-bed homeless shelter on West Street, spending an average of 45 to 60 days in the recently built facility with a shared kitchen. Last year, 22 adults and 30 children lived there.

The longstanding nonprofit organization, in addition to shelter for those on the verge of homelessness, provides financial assistance for rent, past-due utility payments and security deposits along with budget and housing counseling.

CCDC further manages 33-unit Ann Wingfield Commons on East Street, providing necessary housing for lower income residents. The organization also conducts a large-scale Christmas giveaway program every year, providing gifts and other necessities for children and families who would otherwise do without around the holidays.

Finally, CCDC used to operate two three-bedroom houses in town as transitional homes. But due to budget cuts taking effect in July, the transitional shelters were converted to affordable rental units.

Most of the government grants for operations that CCDC gets are awarded on a reimbursement basis meaning the organization has to up-front all the money for expenses. The scenario has resulted in some tough times.

“At one point we had $83 in the bank,” Carter said.

There is absolutely no money left for homeless prevention assistance with the latest award of $46,000 in August quickly tapped out helping 23 families — totaling 70 individuals — remain in their housing and off the street.

Carter said most of the clients served by CCDC are from Culpeper County though the program also serves the surrounding counties of Fauquier, Madison, Rappahannock and Orange, the latter of which saw its homeless shelter shuttered last year.

A couple months ago, finances got so tight at CCDC the agency had to borrow money to make payroll, according to volunteer consultant Tony Hooper, former Culpeper Town Manager. He recently stepped in to assist CCDC with fund-raising in an effort to keep the needed service afloat.

CCDC employs three people, including Carter, on a full-time basis, costing $115,000 in salaries. The organization’s mortgage costs total about $20,000 per year, Hooper said, noting the group is operating on a fiscal year budget of $320,000, which includes $117,000 in homeless intervention assistance, which last year helped 194 people or 62 families stay in their current homes or move.

“The ironic thing is the adopted budget for this year is a fairly sound document, but the big problem is the cash flow and there is just no reserves at all,” Hooper said.

Historically, local churches, business and civic groups donate about $40,000 annually, he said. Piedmont United Way and the town of Culpeper contributed another $6,200 this year. It is Hooper’s hope that the community — including corporations and local businesses — will dig a little deeper this year to keep the homeless shelter open.

He said $80,000 is needed in that regard in order to meet daily expenses and payroll while keeping a little something in reserves for up-front payments covered by government grant awards that arrive after the fact. But with so many nonprofits hurting in today’s economy why should folks care about CCDC?

“We have been part of the community since 1988 and help a lot of people,” Hooper said. “Without this, people who need temporary emergency shelter don’t have it. This is the only group that really provides it now in the community. CCDC is probably the only agency in the county that deals with housing issues and can provide an opportunity for people once they get some employment and counseling to move up into regular private market housing.”

CCDC’s homeless shelter, meanwhile, provides a safe place for families to rebuild their lives and hopefully, finances. But it is only temporary, as permanent housing is always the end goal.

“A lot of them are out of work,” said Carter of shelter occupants, or under-employed and unable to afford the high cost of housing. “The majority have lost their job due to the economy. Most of the people we are helping are here in Culpeper.”

Getting in the holiday spirit: Culpeper Community Development Corp., the organization that runs the homeless shelter on West Street, and provides numerous other housing services, needs the community’s financial support. The nonprofit group based in Culpeper needs about $80,000 to keep the shelter open and meet expenses. To help, mail your tax-deductible donation to Culpeper Community Development Corporation 602 S. Main St., Culpeper, Va. 22701. For more information, call (540) 825-7434 or online at culpepershelter.org.

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