Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.
Emergency Aid of Boulder City is in a bind familiar to social services agencies across the country: as the need increases, resources become scarce.
The nonprofit group that runs a food pantry out of the L.A. Water & Power Building and provides emergency rental, utility and lodging assistance has seen its expenses rise 49 percent in the first nine months of this year over the same period last year, Director Dick Bravo said.
But one major source of funding – grant money from Clark County – has not materialized since the new fiscal year began July 1, and Emergency Aid is spending its reserves to help the needy at its doorsteps.
“Right now, we’re kind of in limbo,” Bravo said. “We are still using up our reserves and trying to find a way to solve our problem.”
A part of the solution, for the time being, is to go to the Boulder City community for help. Emergency Aid sent letters last week to 7,000 households and businesses within the city limits that began, “We need help to help the needy of our town.” In the first week the group received $5,000, Bravo said, and he hopes the appeal brings in 10 times that.
Another part is to hope for a sell-out crowd at a benefit concert at 7 p.m. Friday by the Boulder City Circle, a group of musicians that performs to raise money for various nonprofit groups in town. The concert, “The Boulder Circle Sings Cole Porter,” involves 12 musicians and will be at St. Andrew’s Catholic Community on San Felipe Drive. Tickets are $20.
This year, because of the recession, the group decided all four concerts it is producing will benefit Emergency Aid, organizer Phil Esser said.
“It’s a good thing we did,” Esser said. “The need has increased. Nothing makes a person feel worse than to be on the front line and to have a legitimate, terrible circumstance walk in the room, and they can’t help them much – they can’t solve their problem.”
Emergency Aid has also applied for other grants it has not tried to get in the past, Bravo said, such as an emergency shelter grant through the county.
It’s not that the county has cut off its rent and utility assistance aid, Bravo said. The county has just changed the way it is distributing it. Now it will use a consortium of nonprofit agencies to distribute the money to other nonprofit agencies, instead of having its own Social Services Department do so.
“That puts us one step removed from the source of money,” Bravo said. That might not be so bad, but the fiscal year began on July 1, and the county still has not chosen which nonprofits will distribute the money. The responses to the county’s request for qualifications are not even due back until the end of October, Bravo said.
“So here we are, four months after the money is available, before anybody has any access to it,” Bravo said.
Fellow director Don Walker said the new system “has been described as an airplane being designed in flight.”
A reason for the change, county officials say, is that the rent and utility assistance is now coming from federal stimulus money, which has different requirements.
The other concern Emergency Aid has with the new system is whether it will be able to meet people’s needs quickly enough. Under the old system, the county awarded Emergency Aid a grant, so the group knew how much help it could provide and what criteria to use. When the group decided someone qualified, it wrote a check and was reimbursed by the county. Emergency Aid adapted all of its forms to this system and could pay someone’s rent or utility bill within three days, he said.
Now the consortium agency will review the paperwork and forward it to Clark County Social Services to write the check.
“You can get a feeling for how long this is going to take,” Bravo said. He is concerned families will be evicted or lose their utilities before the check arrives.
The bright spot for Emergency Aid is that it recently received a grant of federal stimulus dollars to buy new, industrial-strength shelving for its food pantry, Walker said. Over the years, Walker and other directors had scrounged shelving where they could, starting with pallets on bricks and salvaging them from warehouses and stores that were getting rid of them.
“It looked like a poor farm,” Walker said. “All that’s gone now, and it’s like uptown commercial storage.”
The food pantry also has refrigerators or freezers plugged into every outlet, allowing it to accept and give out more perishable foods, including some produce and dairy products.
That has come in handy, he said, because the amount of food the pantry has given out has risen from 70,000 pounds a year to 100,000 pounds.
“It amazes me how we have kept that filled,” he said.