City cuts funding for shelter despite its meeting standards

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2003

[10/17/03]Jumping through city-set hoops made no difference, the director of the Vicksburg Haven House Family Shelter said Thursday, as she’s learned the city cut her allocation by $6,250 as officials first said they would months ago.

Lark Johnson said she was told earlier this week the agency would be getting $18,750 from the City of Vicksburg instead of the $25,000 normally allocated. The shelter for battered women, for families and for homeless women uses the city money as a building block for its annual budget that includes donations and state and federal grants.

Before setting this year’s $27.2 million budget, the Mayor and Aldermen announced 25 percent cuts to several entities it identified as charities.

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After the budget hearing, public comments led officials to change their stance on funding those programs. They said they would hear requests from organizations and allocate funding from a fund for all outside agencies.

Johnson made a presentation asking for $25,000, and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted four days later to allocate the smaller amount.

“This will put us right on the line to provide any services to the homeless population,” Johnson said. “So I guess the public opinion didn’t make any difference.”

The city budgeted 1 mill of taxes, or about $264,000, for agencies including Haven House, the 807 Clinic and the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation.

In Haven House’s case, the $25,000 request was key to obtaining a $200,000 federal grant for homeless women and children. Johnson said that in most cases, if there is not help for women who need a place to live, they will return to a violent environment for financial reasons.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who was not present at the meeting where the board voted on the allocation, said that because the city is limited to spending no more than 1 mill on outside agencies there would be more tough decisions to make.

“Unfortunately, the city government is limited to the amount of money we can allocate, and it’s just not enough,” Leyens said.

Johnson points to a different statute that directly authorizes municipalities to make donations to shelters.

South Ward Aldermen Sid Beauman said the amount allocated for Haven House was based on cutting 25 percent off the request, and that officials never said they would fund the full amount of every request. He also said that if there is money left in the fund that Haven House could come back and make a second request for additional funding.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can for as many as we can,” Beauman said.

Overall, the city’s budget reduced spending by about 11 percent with no change in tax rates.

Johnson said that Haven House will have to take another look at its budget and may have to take money out of their rent and utility assistance programs to offset the reduction in city funding.

“I’m concerned that the city is pulling back and just giving minimal support and not providing quality services,” Johnson said.