Commissioner wants group funded

Jun. 22, 2014 @ 08:29 PM

A County Commissioner threw a last-minute wrinkle into her government’s fiscal 2014-15 budget deliberations by seeking a $50,000 allocation to a local nonprofit that works to bring health care, education and housing to the poor.

The request last week from Commissioner Brenda Howerton would have benefited Healing with CAARE Inc., which is based on Broadway Street just north of downtown near Durham Central Park.

Howerton wanted the money included in the county’s fiscal 2014-14 budget, but County Manager Wendell Davis on Friday said he’ll instead bring the matter back to the board in August after securing more information from the group.

Two commissioners, Ellen Reckhow and Wendy Jacobs, balked at putting the money in the budget because Healing with CAARE hadn’t submitted a formal nonprofit funding application to county officials over the winter.

“This is just not the way to do things,” Reckhow said at one point in the ensuing discussion.

But Howerton said it’s “pretty embarrassing for Durham” that the group doesn’t receive money from local government despite receiving aid and recognition from the federal government.

The commissioners’ debate echoed one that played out in front of the City Council in April, after Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden held up the award of a $267,621 contract to another nonprofit involved in combating homelessness.

Cole-McFadden argued the city is directing too much of its housing and anti-poverty money to too few groups, and that its grant-application process is too complicated.

She did not go to bat specifically for Healing with CAARE, but the Broadway Street group’s leader, Sharon Elliott-Bynum, appeared with members of her staff to make a pitch for support.

Trouble was, Healing with CAARE hadn’t applied for that particular city grant either, and the council quickly voted to go through with the “rapid-rehousing” contract with Housing for New Hope Inc. Some of the money for it originated in federal grants, but most was from the “penny for housing” earmark of city property tax revenue.

“I don’t know how it happened that somehow you were not notified or were not cognizant of the enrollment process,” Councilman Eugene Brown told Elliott-Bynum. “In the future, you will be.”

“We will go above and beyond the steps taken in past to make sure organizations are aware of the opportunity,” promised Larry Jarvis, assistant director of the city’s Community Development Department. “If we need to pick up and the phone and call people to make sure they’re aware of the opportunity, that’s what we’ll do.”

But the issue has even deeper roots than that, as Healing with CAARE late last year did apply and was turned down for a $108,000 “continuum of care” grant from the city to combat homelessness. That grant was backed mainly by federal funds.

Elliott-Bynum and her staff proposed converting a house on Corporation Street into four rental units for homeless female veterans.

She told the council in April Community Development had turned her group’s request aside on the grounds there “wasn’t really a real need for female veterans.”

That squared with a departmental memo that in fact said there’s “no indication that Durham has substantial numbers” of chronically homeless female vets, particularly given that some housing vouchers available through the local branch of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have gone unused.

But a city advisory panel that screens requests for grants that use federal money also looked at Healing for CAARE’s application in detail, and in effect said it just didn’t offer as much bang for the buck as a competing application from Housing for New Hope.

It recommended, and Housing for New Hope got, a $108,127 grant to secure 10 units for the chronically homeless.

The panel noted Housing for New Hope was bringing $133,331 in outside funding to the 10-unit deal, versus a $54,000 “match and leverage” promise from Healing with CAARE for its four-unit proposal.

Howerton’s move appears to have originated with a recent visit to Durham by the acting U.S. surgeon general that included Healing with CAARE on his list of stops.

The commission and Cole-McFadden were among the local officials on hand to greet him, Elliott-Bynum said.

Afterwards, the “conversation came up in the group of people after he left about ‘what funding are you getting from the city of Durham,’” Elliott-Bynum said. “I said to them all, we’ve been here 19½ years and we’ve been doing this work and always tried to be inclusive. So I sent that to several people.”

The “that” in her comment referred to a three-page memo that explained the group’s work and said it could use $50,000 for equipment, educational and health-care software, clinic supplies and training costs for its GED program and job incubator.

“All you can do is ask, so that’s what I did, I asked,” Elliott-Bynum said. “I’m not expecting anything because I’ve never gotten anything before. And some people don’t know there’s a need. But when you’re running a free clinic, there’s always a need.”