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Shelters scramble for funds after grant cuts

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Shelters for the homeless and victims of violence across the region lost a major source of federal funding earlier this year that sent agencies scrambling.

"Many of us are struggling to make up that difference," said Sheila Orndorff, executive director of the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter.

Response Inc., which provides emergency shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence, also saw its funding sources dwindle, according to Executive Director Kristie Wilkin. The agency has lost funding from the same Department of Housing and Urban Development source Alliance uses, as well as money for domestic violence.

"It leaves us in kind of a catch-22 because all of us can only fundraise so much from our communities," Wilkin said Wednesday. "It's gonna be a rough year."

Workers for the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter in Maurertown hope to make up the loss of $40,000 through a new fundraiser Saturday. The shelter plans to hold its first "pottery bingo" at Mt. Olive United Methodist Church, on the corner of Mt. Olive Road and Back Road. Doors open at noon and bingo games begin at 1 p.m.

Tickets cost $25 in advance or $30 at the door which pay for 10 bingo games. Food and drinks will be available for sale throughout the day and door prizes will be awarded each hour.

Organizers at the Alliance came up with "pottery bingo" as a way to give back to the potters who craft and donate bowls to the shelter's annual Empty Bowl Soup Supper. Potters receive compensation for their pottery and 10 supporters at the fundraiser can win pieces donated by the creators. Proceeds from the bingo help cover the cost of the shelter's cost of operating its traditional housing and homelessness prevention programs.

"It's definitely a different concept that's for sure," Wilkin said of the pottery bingo.

The shelter had sold half the tickets available for the fundraiser and the agency hopes to sell more before or at least the day of the event.

Wilkin noted that Response also plans to hold a fundraiser Sunday at Carmella's restaurant in Edinburg. The karaoke fundraising event runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Orndorff explained in a recent interview the agency this current fiscal year did not receive $40,000 it anticipated through a federal grant program. Orndorff admitted that shelters likely cannot make up the loss through fundraisers alone. While the Alliance lost $20,000 per year over two years, Orndorff said other agencies likely saw a greater cut.

The Alliance works closely with agencies such as Response Inc. While Alliance focuses mainly on homeless families the agency does take in single women or single parents with children who have used up their time allotted in emergency shelters, Orndorff explained.

Only one shelter in the Northern Shenandoah Valley received funding through the program normally distributed among all similar agencies, according to Orndorff. The shelter is included in one of the state's Continuum of Care covering Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties and Winchester. The continuum targets the needs of the homeless population, affordable housing and other related topics.

Many of the area agencies received funding for the past 20 years or more through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"[The grant] became competitive four years ago," Orndorff said. "The first year it was competitive we all were funded so we thought we all must be doing something right, we all got funded, we've been funded for 20 years."

The program used to award the grants based on the number of beds a shelter provided, Orndorff explained. The federal agency informed shelters of the program's new competitive approach which prepared the organizations, Orndorff said. Most, but not all, shelters received funding the first year, Orndorff said. The grant awarded to agencies lasted two years.

Shelters applied again for the grant. With the exception of Harmony Place, a shelter in Warren County for victims of domestic and sexual violence, the remaining agencies did not receive funding awards, according to Orndorff. The results left many workers at the regional shelters baffled.

"We all got letters saying that we didn't score high enough," Orndorff said. "We all did a debriefing to see what our scores were but, even after that, we of course had many meetings, we don't really understand that."

"We don't want to fight that battle," Orndorff added. "We just need funding back in our region and in our community."

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