An Irvine group that brought national attention to the city with a plan to convert a vacant dog kennel into a shelter for homeless families may shut down because of money trouble.
Officials of the nonprofit Irvine Temporary Housing say that unless the group can raise $8,000 by Dec. 15, they may be forced to close. Even then, the organization faces an uncertain future because it will have the same "cash flow squeeze" in January, said Roy Werner, one of the group's directors.
Werner said the troubles largely stem from new restrictions on how federal money can be spent. About half of the group's annual $140,000 budget comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Private donations make up the balance, including $17,000 from the Irvine Co.
In the past, it was left to Irvine Temporary Housing to decide how to spend the federal money, and at times, the funds were used to pay for the program's overhead, such as office expenses or the salaries of the group's three employees.
Private Money Spent
But HUD has ruled the grant money can be used only to provide housing and capital improvements in the program. Because most of the $70,000 raised privately this year has been spent, Werner said the group faces a difficult choice of "either cutting staff or services" if it fails to come up with $8,000 by mid-December.
Irvine Temporary Housing Executive Director Jim Palmer said about 20% of the organization's $140,000 annual budget pays for fund-raising and the full-time salaries of a counselor, himself and a part-time assistant. About 50% is spent on rent payments for clients, with the remaining 30% of its budget going for programs that include food for families it aids, he said.
Irvine Temporary Housing's small office is donated, Palmer said.
The agency keeps homeless families in five furnished apartments around the city. Rents are subsidized and the locations of the units are kept secret to protect the families' privacy.
With the strong support of three of Irvine's five council members, including Mayor Larry Agran, the agency is seeking to expand its program by converting a vacant portion of the Irvine Animal Care Center into a 40- to 50-bed shelter for homeless or displaced families.
Last month, HUD awarded the city and the agency a $496,000 grant to remodel the kennel and operate the homeless shelter for five years, once it opens sometime next year. Federal officials have ruled, however, that the grant cannot be used for anything but the kennel conversion.
John Dombrink, a member of the group's board of directors, said the agency has come up with a scheme that would divide the kennel into five three-bedroom apartments. Each unit would have its own kitchen and bathroom. Those plans, drawn by a private architect for the group, go to the city staff next week for review.
Critics say the council's decision last month to push ahead with a centralized homeless shelter at the city-owned kennel for stray dogs has angered many potential donors who have stopped giving in protest.
"The money is out there," said Councilwoman Sally Anne Miller, who voted against the kennel conversion. "But until the mayor and ITH wake up and realize that the vast majority of Irvine does not want a centralized homeless shelter, they are not going to get another cent."
Agran, one of the agency's original directors, said the group always has had trouble raising money and has been in financial trouble in the past. "I'm confident they can weather the storm," he said. "Every charitable group goes through some lean times."