Monday, June 24, 2024

The cost of homelessness: 5 nonprofits invest nearly $11M per year

This is a four-part series taking a look at money invested to support people in housing crises

Good Shepherd has been operating in the region for 40 years, providing emergency shelter, food and service provider assistance to the homeless population. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A handful of local nonprofits have spent more to assist the homeless population in the last year than the city and county collectively over the last decade.

Five nonprofits spent upward of $11 million in the last year in the tri-county region to provide shelter, meals, employment and housing services, mental health support and financial assistance to the hundreds of people in the tri-county region experiencing homelessness. 

PART 1: The cost of homelessness: $1M for tracking data, assisting nonprofits in Cape Fear

PART 2: The cost of homelessness: 10%, the chronically homeless, use 90% of resources

PART 3 The cost of homelessness: City, county dole out at least $9M over 10 years

The organizations that assist the population are as varied as the clients they serve. As detailed by area nonprofit Good Shepherd in the first article in this series, the homeless population has many different faces and individuals find themselves without shelter for innumerable reasons. With a wide range of programs and initiatives, many organizations able to reach less-known populations of those experiencing homelessness. 

For example, domestic violence victims often find themselves without shelter after fleeing from abuse and not being able to return home. Human trafficking survivors are similar in that they often need a safe space to heal mentally and physically.

Nonprofits are better able to serve the population through daily interactions and forming relationships. Much of what they do is earning trust from vulnerable individuals to help connect them with necessary help.

To operate effectively, the organizations receive money from a variety of sources. Naturally, they rely heavily on donations and private investments, as government contributions are never guaranteed and constantly changing. PCD looked at the breakdown of city and county funding toward homeless initiatives in the third article, a bulk of which is dedicated to nonprofits. In the last budget cycle, the city and county contributed around $300,000 to nonprofits dealing directly with the homeless population.

Port City Daily decided to take a look at a handful of those entities that directly assist the homeless population in its fourth series of articles on “The Cost of Homelessness.”

This is not an exhaustive list; rather, these organizations were chosen because some have received city and county funding for the last decade — and are the most visible in the community. Others were selected because of the role played in shaping the local conversation about homelessness. 

Not mentioned below, but worth noting, are Family Promise of the Lower Cape Fear, A Safe Place and Leading Into New Communities. They will be mentioned in more detail in the next and final part of the series, which focuses on housing. These three nonprofits focus more on finding permanent housing for vulnerable populations.

These nonprofits also work with Cape Fear Continuum of Care, which handles the coordinated entry process for its member organizations, as covered in part one of “The Cost of Homelessness.” Essentially, CoC is the first point of contact for anyone experiencing a housing crisis. Staff point that person in the right direction for help. In 2022, the CoC reported 1,885 people accessed the system and received some level of support.

The nationally recognized practice varies in the clients it serves. It’s a place to get a baseline for anyone struggling with housing and remind them what’s available in the community. Many of those services come directly from nonprofits. 

Good Shepherd recently launched its Home for Good campaign, to raise $20 million and expand its campus to offer more space for families seeking emergency shelter. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Good Shepherd

For 40 years, Good Shepherd has helped at least 150 people return to housing annually, which equates to nearly 6,000 people, through its range of services.

Funding for its programs is allocated via a mix of resources, both public and private. In fiscal year 2020, Good Shepherd took in roughly $2.3 million in grants, $29,000 in program services, and $155,629 from fundraisers.

It spent $2.3 million on its program services the same year, which includes an overnight shelter with 118 beds, a soup kitchen serving 160,000 meals each year, short-term housing for veterans, and a day shelter offering basic needs, such as showers and medical care, and case management for referrals to mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and housing.

“It’s not an inexpensive intervention,” Good Shepherd executive director Katrina Knight said.

However, the shelters are meant to be temporary. In 2021 and 2022, the nonprofit transitioned 162 men, women and children from emergency to stable housing.

“We see that as the number one best way to improve a person’s quality of life and then to provide supportive services that they need to stay housed for the long-term,” Good Shepherd’s community engagement coordinator Liz Carbone explained during last month’s State of Homelessness Forum.

It costs roughly $4,000 to get one person off the street via Good Shepherd, a number that has risen significantly over the years.

“We used to need maybe $2,000 to $2,500,” Knight said. “Many folks have a shot at maintaining their payments once housed, but saving up for first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit is either an impossibility on their modest wages or leaves them stuck in emergency shelter months longer than is programmatically feasible.”

Good Shepherd houses families at its night shelter, a safe resting place for more than 350 people in 2021 and 2022. The nonprofit currently has 90 adults and children using its night shelter and during the day about 60 people access meals, showers and connections with resources. Demographics for the clientele vary — Good Shepherd services women, men, families with young children, employed and unemployed, and those with disabilities.

As Knight pointed out, the many faces of homelessness are not always visible.

“You can’t see them going and coming to work,” she said. “Most people we serve aren’t going to be seen on a street corner or downtown and not going to be recognized as unhoused.”

The majority of Good Shepherd’s money comes from donations, but it also receives city, county and federal funding. Annually, it is given $32,000 for its shelter services and $32,000 for its soup kitchen from the county. Good Shepherd has established itself as a vendor.

“The county’s acknowledged this is an ongoing need leading to a partnership effort between the county and Good Shepherd,” Knight explained. 

Good Shepherd received $4,240 budgeted through the city’s general fund for the first time last year; historically, it only been allocated money from the city’s Community Development Block Grants.

In September, Good Shepherd announced a $20-million Home for Good campaign, an effort to raise funds to expand its campus to be more inclusive to families. With the goal to open in the next three years, it will serve eight families at a time, double what its current shelter can hold. To date, the nonprofit has raised $2.5 million in private donations and commitments, Knight said.

“Unfortunately, you’ll hear people in the community that we’re investing all this money and obviously it’s not working,” Knight said. “It is working for an awful lot of people. Without that, people think it’s visible and a significant problem now, if we didn’t have significant interventions providing a safety net for families with children, veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, it would be much more apparent how many people are in housing crises.”

The Salvation Army building at 820 N Second St. was recently sold to the City of Wilmington to help fund the nonprofit’s future expanded campus at North 30th Street. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

Salvation Army of the Cape Fear

The bulk of The Salvation Army’s funding comes from donations and proceeds from its family stores, which accept gently used donations that are sold back to the community at an affordable price. It receives minimal assistance from government money. 

Last year, the nonprofit’s revenues totaled $5.97 million and its expenditures equaled $5.84 million. The Salvation Army received $145,218 from government agencies, $145,166 from special events, $2.7 million from the Family Store and $2.96 million in donations. 

It spent $5.8 million in 2022 to serve 4,730 people; the bulk of that, $4.6 million, went toward social services. The nonprofit provided more than 46,000 meals and 219 individuals with housing assistance, as well as 155 with financial utility assistance.

“The way we do accounting, we know how much we spend on financial assistance, social services, but we don’t separate [it] out for homeless people,” Maj. Ken Morris told PCD.

“It’s all tied into the same budget,” Morris added. “How much specifically goes into the homeless population is hard to determine.”

Morris said it easily amounts to $200 per person, per night to shelter someone — including shelter, food, utilities and staff time. Individuals staying at the shelter are asked to pay $5 per day, which covers a minimal amount of expenses.

The nonprofit also doles out funding for its life skills programs, open to anyone in the community for free. However, individuals who want to stay in the shelter for longer than two weeks must enroll in the courses.

“It’s not enough to just put them in a house and use government funds to cover expenses for a year,” Morris said. “It’s not enough to get people turned around.”

Life skills — including accounting, cooking, anger management, resume building, parenting and more — better prepare homeless people transitioning to housing and the workforce. About 40 people go through the classes regularly, Morris said.

It costs the nonprofit roughly about $5 to $10 per student to put one person through the course with room rentals, laptops and other supplies. It partners with Cape Fear Community College, which covers the expense of teacher pay. In fiscal year 2021-2022, 275 people went through the courses, costing the Salvation Army between $1,375 and $2,750 to assist with classes.

Recently, the Salvation Army opened its social services operations — financial assistance, life skills classes, clothing and food boxes — in the Harrelson Center while it transitions to a new campus. 

“Being in the Harrelson Center has allowed better collaboration with other agencies,” Morris said. 

If the funds remain available, he’d like to maintain a Salvation Army presence there, as a result of the partnerships created, even after moving to its new campus.

The Salvation Army sold its Second Street building to the City of Wilmington. 

“It really gave us the boost we needed,” Morris said of the sale.

Its shelter is still operational on Second but will close May 1. Morris said the nonprofit will continue to assist by making connections to other organizations or shelters.

“We continue to help by working with other agencies, shelters, other types of housing,” he said.

The organization purchased 22 acres at 1120 N. 30 St. for a little more than $1 million with plans to build a community center and expand its services. It will be the hub for its five-county region serving people in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender. 

Morris explained to PCD the Salvation Army must raise local funds to support the project.

It launched a capital campaign nearly a decade ago. So far, it’s taken in about $10.2 million and spent about $1.6 million toward the project. Morris said another $3 million is accounted for in future pledges. 

There is enough cash on hand to finish site work and break ground on the first building of its new campus some time this year. Salvation Army is already fundraising toward the second building, with $2-million plus pledged toward the future build.

To be called the Center of Hope Shelter and Corps Community Center, it will house a larger emergency shelter, slated to hold 70 people or seven families. Family rooms are new to the layout, as the current shelter only has bunk beds for individuals. 

The new campus will include a worship area, a community center with gym, room for afterschool enrichment programs, and greenspace such as a park and ball field.

The campus will also serve daily meals to residents and the community, and offer better access to services, especially for neighbors in the Creekwood and Maides Park communities.

“Research determined the need for a larger shelter to better help the homeless,” Morris said.

A current goal of $16 million total is needed for the expansion, but Morris said he expects that number to fluctuate over time.

Vigilant Hope fundraised to purchase a shower trailer in 2016, which now is open for homeless individuals to use five times per week. (Courtesy/Vigilant Hope)

Vigilant Hope

Some organizations manage to run on very little funding and still offer support to those that experience homelessness. For example, Vigilant Hope, a faith-based organization founded in a grassroots movement a decade ago, fundraises all its needed revenue.

For example, in 2017 it brought in $214,194. Director of community engagement Laura Bullock explained she even fundraises for her “modest salary.” 

In 2017 $166,935 was used toward programming and salaries. The nonprofit doesn’t receive any state or federal funding but has recently applied for money at a local level.

“Because costs stay so low, it’s sustainable to maintain,” Bullock said. 

Bullock describes Vigilant Hope as more of an educational organization than a service provider. 

“Our model is unique,” she said. “Our primary mission is education, to help people better understand poverty as a whole — what causes it and how the average citizen can help.”

Vigilant Hope spreads awareness through its weekly community gatherings to break bread, Bible studies and fellowship.

“It started inside the churches, and we began working with UNCW and the school system to better understand poverty as a whole,” Bullock said, “what its causes are and how the average citizen can help.”

It also held the State of Homelessness Forum in March to provide a better understanding of what the homeless population is facing and how residents can help.

The mission has expanded over the years to include two home bases, both in downtown’s Southside community, where it hosts gatherings. The nonprofit is mostly supported by local churches through varied donations. Labor is usually provided by volunteers or through in-kind donations.

Vigilant Hope offers meals three times a week. Last year, the organization spent roughly $10,000 to feed community members. Volunteers provide some food and host drives for supplies.

On Saturdays the nonprofit typically serves close to 100 people, all of whom range from food insecure, low-income families to those experiencing homelessness. Churches sign up to cover the food and Vigilant Hope provides the paper products.

Breakfast is served on Mondays in the same format, and Vigilant Hope launched a potluck-style meal on Thursdays. 

“We believe in equity,” Bullock said. “People bring food, come help set up, breakdown. There is no giver or receiver. Everyone’s just a community member who comes to eat together.”

Listening to the community and responding to its needs prompted Vigilant Hope in 2016 to fund a shower trailer for homeless individuals to access five days a week. The organization raised $20,000 to convert the trailer, which rotates locations for accessibility. It also shares its use with other agencies that might request it be parked at a site. In 2022, more than 1,800 showers were taken in the trailer, not counting ones hosted by groups other than Vigilant Hope.

The trailer allows for four people to bathe at a time, has two sinks and a closet with essential hygiene items and towels.

Vigilant Hope’s Kristina Ritter estimated it costs the nonprofit about $115 per day to operate, excluding products including shampoo, soap, and body wash, which are all donated.

Vigilant Hope started roasting coffee to support its mission. It began selling it wholesale in 2019 and was selling 100 to 200 pounds per week, mostly to churches. The nonprofit then opened a coffee shop on 16th Street in early 2021. The space and renovations were generously donated by someone who believed in the mission. 

The cost of goods sold is part of the nonprofit’s pricing model and profits go directly back into funding its work.

The coffee shop currently has seven part-time baristas, making between $11 and $13 per hour plus tips, and three volunteers who help with wholesale. In 2022, the shop generated a net profit of $18,000.

Vigilant Hope also created a leadership pipeline program that employs staff with backgrounds in addiction, homelessness or some sort of poverty, Bullock explained. Employees are mentored and offered housing assistance for the first year, if needed.

First Fruit Ministries helps survivors of human trafficking with emergency shelter, meals and medical care. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

First Fruit Ministries

First Fruit Ministries, focused on assisting people escaping human trafficking, provides a variety of services and resources for those experiencing homelessness. Its outreach team prepares hot meals and offers emergency medical care to people living on the streets, under bridges and in wooded encampments.

According to the organization’s 2021 tax returns, it received $555,347 in government grants, $1.8 million in donations and individual support, and $1.3 million in non-cash contributions. First Fruit also brought in another $7,455 in revenue from its programs. 

It takes around $2 million for First Fruit to operate. More than $550,000 goes toward salaries and benefits for five full-time staff and three part-time employees.

The N.C. Coalition Against Human Trafficking report shows North Carolina is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 states with the highest number of reported human trafficking cases. To assist, First Fruit manages the Wilmington Dream Center, a six- to nine-month mentorship program for 12 homeless women and two homeless families at a time.

The nonprofit, around for 20 years, leads a street outreach team that provides hot meals, clothing and supplies to homeless people four times per week. In 2022, staff served more than 18,500 meals. 

Three times a week, more than 300 volunteers distribute fresh groceries and canned goods to more than 1,000 low-income people; 61% are the elderly or disabled on fixed incomes.

First Fruit doles out $1.3 million in food, clothing and housing assistance per year.

While DVVS’s shelter location remains confidential for the safety of its clients, it’s public-facing office Open Gate is located on Market Street. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Domestic Violence Shelter and Services

Domestic violence shelters are also considered emergency centers for the homeless, those fleeing from domestic violence and who may no longer have a safe place to live.

Locally, the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc. provides temporary housing and a safe place to stay for as long as people may need. Executive director Lauren Bryant said it costs the organization roughly $94 per night per room for emergency shelter.

In addition to that expense, the nonprofit provides dinner, which costs roughly $138 per day or $6 per individual.

From July 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023, DVVS spent $310,000 sheltering individuals for an average of $1,281 per night. Roughly 23 people were staying in temporary housing during the eight-month time period.

“These expenses do not include salaries for 24/7 staffing, additional materials and financial assistance for clients, transportation assistance and resources needed to meet clients needs,” Bryant said.

DVVS offers a two-week initial stay but does not kick out clients who exceed that timeframe. 

Some clients end up spending more than a month in the shelter. Three months is the latest average, Bryant said.

She said numbers are on the rise, up 300% since Hurricane Florence and then exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“It used to be the majority stayed one to seven days,” Bryant explained. “Pre-Florence [DVVS] was just a respite spot to get someone to family or back home; a shorter stay.”

Now, 27% of shelter victims stay longer than 43 days at a time. 

“During that time, we goal-plan with individuals to figure out what they want,” Bryant said.

One of the biggest barriers for DVVS clients, she added, is the “next transition piece.” Staff works with survivors to help them find a new safe place to live, whether that’s back home, into new housing or connecting with family or friends.

“We work with our local community partners, Coordinated Entry, and other housing opportunities to assist clients as much as possible,” Bryant said. “We are fortunate to have some funding specifically to assist with rent, deposits, and housing applications;, however, the lack of affordable housing in our community makes it extremely difficult for individuals to qualify for or identify long-term stable housing.”

DVVS also works with Good Shepherd, but Bryant said “there’s not enough room at the inn.” As noted in part two of “The Cost of Homelessness,” of the roughly 150 emergency shelter beds in the tri-county region, they remain 95% occupied.

The nonprofit is working on opening its new location, which will house 26 people at a time. Florence destroyed its former 125-year-old home, which could hold up to 19 women. DVVS has been using alternate “temporary” locations, which have lasted now for four years. It’s spent $50,000 monthly over the last four years to house 4,000 clients.

READ MORE: ‘The need is here’: After 4 years without a shelter, nonprofit to open new facility for domestic violence survivors

For fiscal year 2022-2023, 57% of DVVS’ funding comes from federal, state and local grants; 27% is provided by individuals, churches, businesses and fundraising events. Another 16% comes from proceeds from its three Vintage Values resale shops.

“The scary part is, one of our largest grants, [Victims of Crime Act] grant was already cut and we’re being cut again,” Bryant said. “The way it looks now, unless VOCA is fixed, it will not be enough funding to get us through the next two-year cycle.”

The two-year grant makes up about 13% to 26% of DVSS’ annual budget, as the amount fluctuates annually. Federal funding dropped by $13 billion between 2017 and 2022; the change between the two grants for DVVS has declined from $608,652 in 2017 to $387,424 in 2021.

To make it through, Bryant said the nonprofit will rely more on donations and the “generosity of the community.”

It’s not just DVVS being shorted; domestic violence shelters and children’s advocacy organizations throughout the state are facing the same situations. VOCA comes from the state, a passthrough for money from the feds.

“Something we’re always doing is looking at diversity of funding,” Bryant said, “through revenue streams, looking for more grants, fundraising events, and reaching out to the community.”

DVVS also has long-term savings that could carry the agency through two years if all funding were to stop completely.

“Survivors at the door are not going away,” Bryant said.

The next and final series of “The Cost of Homelessness” will detail the affordable housing crisis in the region, what investments have been made to increase the stock and why most experts in the field say “housing first” is the best policy to get people off the streets.

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