The fiscal crunch that forced Salt Lake City's largest homeless shelter network to lay off staff and reduce the number of people who can stay was almost inevitable, according to the shelter's director.
The shelter needs to be able to plan ahead, but most of its funding comes in a little at a time with no promises for the future."We're going to come through this thing now, but we need to talk about the role of the shelter and the expectations of the community," said Maun Alston, Travelers Aid director. Travelers Aid operates the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center.
Alston sent the media a press release Friday announcing that the shelter faces a $200,000 budget shortfall. As a result, beginning March 29 shelter beds for men will be reduced from the present winter highs of up to 400 a night to 220. Women's beds will drop from 56 to 30. And the number of families sheltered will be reduced from 26 to 20.
"We don't have sufficient commitments for ongoing funding, so we can't plan and deliver services on an ongoing basis. I want to use this (crisis) as an opportunity to work closely with community leaders to put resources together to meet needs. We need to have some commitments for next year."
Every year the shelter faces a shortfall, but "we've never laid people off before and we've never been this short before," Alston said.
Alston said several factors contributed to the tighter-than-usual financial situation: First, the winter was unusually harsh and more people had to be accommodated. During January, the shelters averaged 501 people a night and some "overflowed" to the Salvation Army dining room.
This was also the first full year of operation for the new women's shelter. "Since it was the first year, we didn't have the ability to nail those costs down the way we would have liked," she said.
And health insurance premiums for staffers rose significantly.
"It just finally caught up to us. We had to see what we could cut to maintain services at a minimum level."
More than a dozen staffers from monitors to caseworkers and custodians were let go.