Funding cut to nonprofit that helps homeless stay connectedby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — An organization that provides free voicemail accounts to people who are homeless or fleeing domestic violence faces deep cuts.
St. Paul-based Open Access Connections did not receive a $37,000 grant it had been expecting from the Department of Human Services, board chair Mike Menner said today. The nonprofit has also lost $20,000 in funding from private foundations. The cuts amount to about one-fourth of the nonprofit's annual budget.
Advocates say the cuts could jeopardize voicemail access for the program's 2,200 clients, many of whom are homeless and depend on the service to connect with doctors, family, and prospective employers and landlords.
"It's become this perfect storm for us that suddenly has threatened our ability to continue," Menner said.
Department of Human Services spokesperson Beth Voigt confirmed that the agency cut grants to several organizations, including the voicemail program. Voigt said the cuts were needed because the state had been relying on $10.6 million in one-time federal stimulus dollars to fund homelessness prevention and related programs. That funding expired on June 30. State funding for homeless shelters has not changed, Voigt said, despite rising demand.
Faced with increased homelessness throughout the state, the agency also decided to cut back on some grants to metro-area programs so that it can fund new shelters in Greater Minnesota, Voigt said.
Rosemarie Reger-Rumsey, the executive director of Listening House, said the St. Paul drop-in center for homeless adults lost $25,000 in annual funding when the Department of Human Services reallocated money to fund programs in rural areas.
"It allows more services for homeless people in rural Minnesota, so I understand their decision, even though it means we're collateral damage," she said.
Listening House's services will continue despite the loss of funding, Reger-Rumsey said. The $25,000 grant amounts to about 5 percent of the drop-in center's total annual budget, she said.
Open Access Connections, with a much smaller budget and greater reliance on state funding, faces a tougher challenge.
The organization, founded in 1994, partners with more than 300 social services agencies throughout the state to provide the free service. The list of partners includes homeless shelters, domestic violence intervention programs, workforce centers, and dozens of groups that help runaway teenagers, survivors of torture, and people with disabilities.
Without the voicemail service, advocates say, many clients would struggle to stay connected with doctors, therapists, employers, and family members.
In the past two years, the organization also created pilot programs to provide cell phones and internet access for people who are homeless.
Those initiatives will be eliminated without new funding, Menner said. It's also likely that several employees will lose their jobs, he said. The nonprofit relies on two full-time staffers and several part-time workers to run the voicemail system and conduct trainings with social service agencies.
"At this point, we're doing worst case scenario," Menner said. "How much do we need to keep stuff running at bare minimum?"
Menner plans to reach out to private donors for support, but he said the economic downturn continues to hamper fundraising efforts.