The Press headline article that ran October 25, 2011 titled “Left Out in the Cold” by reporter Tom Hasslinger really bothered me. I felt it was a little misleading especially with the first sentence “A financial shortfall will prevent St. Vincent de Paul from opening its Coeur d'Alene warming shelter this winter”. The Press has always been good to me and I’ve been able to get the stories out when we needed too but I feel this last one missed the mark. Fortunately it’s my relationship with the Press that allows me to write this.

Let me start by saying St Vincent DePaul North Idaho is NOT closing our Warming Center. We are consolidating our 15 bed center in Coeur d’Alene with our 60 bed center in Post Falls where it is bigger, will sleep more, provide more services and have a bigger kitchen to serve from. We will be bussing people from Coeur d’Alene and the outlying areas in and then back in the morning.  When the temperature falls below 20 degrees we will work together and be open even when Fresh Start is unable to (they were only open 30 nights last year, as per a 10/25 blast email from Fresh Start compared to our 45 nights in 2010). Most would call that move fiscally responsible, collaborating with others to serve more. Nobody should be left out in the cold. EVER!

Like any business we budget for the different programs we provide our region. We provide 24 programs to be exact.  We fund raise for the different programs that we offer that are not covered by grants. The Warming Center is one of them. In 2010 the 2 Warming Centers cost $37,867 total to operate. As of today donations for the 2 Warming Centers currently have raised $28,000. Steak Fry and individual donations throughout the year account for that total. In our Warming Centers we are concerned about safety for everyone. We hire staff for the centers out of our Emergency Shelters to those who need a job especially right before the holidays. They are trained and background checked for any violent tendencies. For safety, we always have 2 staff on duty, preferably 1 male and 1 female. They are “on the clock” from 6:00pm to 7:00am (13 hours) and are paid $100 per night each. 2010 we felt the need was so bad we opened a new center in Post Falls to go along with our current one in Coeur d’Alene.  Unexpectedly, the winter of 2010 was one of the worst ever and we were open 45 nights, 15 more nights than 2009, and we went over budget, it was “ok” because it was the “right thing to do”.

The phrase “the right thing to do” is a huge concern in the homeless serving community who are struggling with an overwhelming surge of human need. It’s a national crisis not just a “North Idaho thing”. With homeless families and Veterans becoming the fastest growing homeless population, the numbers of homeless are rapidly growing. To explain the increase in services, I sat down and examined the numbers here at St Vincent de Paul North Idaho alone to see the increase of people coming through our doors 2008 vs. 2010, and how we are looking at the end of 2011. Just here at St Vincent de Paul North Idaho, at the end of 2008, we had 1,551 unduplicated individuals come through our social service office who received 4,653 services like food, clothing, or rental assistance. Two years later, at the end of 2010 we had 2,910 unduplicated individuals come through the HELP Center (a 188% increase) and 17,456 services provided (a 375% increase). Just at looking at the numbers today St Vincent de Paul North Idaho is looking at a 160% increase just in unduplicated individuals over 2010 just through the end of September 2011. We are raising money for all of the programs we offer, including the 2 Warming Centers, to meet that need.

Unfortunately, in this “new normal” we haven’t raised enough money to open 2 centers. Looking at the numbers and projections the board of directors decided to consolidate our smaller center into our bigger center to provide better service and to be able to serve everyone needing our help just as we’ve been doing for 65 years. We still have coming up the Spaghetti Feed, Run a Mile in their Shoes 5K coming up, the Souport the End of Homelessness and the 3 on 3 Hoops for Homeless at the Kroc coming up-All in November and all money raised will go to support St Vincent de Paul’s Warming Centers, but that was never mentioned in the article. If we can raise enough we can discuss opening the second Center.

In an era where nonprofits are struggling to survive, successfully living within our means and still serving 160% more than last year is not a “financial shortfall”, that’s being fiscally responsible. In the last 24 hours I have received more comments about our demise than I can count—and we’re the largest homeless serving agency in the 5 northern counties where others in the region rely on us.

Financially we are strong and with a staff of 88 and 182 fantastic volunteers we will always find ways to serve others. Our policy is to always look for a collaboration with others to provide the most service for others. But we are not immune to this recession. We count our pennies and stretch our dollars just like everyone else does during this “new normal”.