Popular County Homeless Program Dodges Budget Axe

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Around 300 people – both single adults and families – get housing, job training and other services from Mather Community Campus out by the Mather Airport. The cuts Sacramento County supervisors were looking at would have forced some or all of them onto the streets. But yesterday, county staff announced a one-time solution: nearly $700,000 from the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, a joint city-county body that works on affordable housing and community redevelopment.
O’Neil: “We’re excited, relieved, happy – all those good things.”
Ellen O’Neil with the non-profit group Volunteers of America is Mather’s program director. VOA works with the county to run the campus.
O’Neil: “Mather contributes a lot to the community, and it’s especially important we stay open.”
But this rare piece of good budget news is kind of like a “get out of jail free” card – it’s only good once. And since economists predict the economy won’t recover enough over the next year to boost state and local budgets out of their red ink, the county doesn’t expect to have money for Mather starting next July.
Wagstaff: “We’ve gotta do some serious thinking to how we can ensure the campus stays alive for the long term.”
Bruce Wagstaff heads the county’s Department of Human Assistance, which oversees homeless programs like Mather.
Wagstaff: “We’re gonna be looking at ways that perhaps, for example, the county may not play as large a role as it has in running the campus. Perhaps a community provider might step in to run it.”
O’Neil: “Well, I think that’d be a great idea.”
VOA’s Ellen O’Neil says her organization would be up to the task.
O’Neil: “We’re a non-profit. We take the ‘non’ pretty seriously. So we could do very inexpensively and we could do it effectively.”

Meanwhile, the county still faces a $76 million budget deficit, including potential cuts to the sheriff’s department and Child Protective Services. A vote on the final budget is expected later this week.