Sulzbacher chair makes his case

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  • | 12:00 p.m. July 9, 2009
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As Chair of the Sulzbacher Center Board of Directors, I see first hand the enormous impact our organization has on the most vulnerable citizens in our community. The Center is home to 334 men, women and children every day and the shelter is full to capacity every night of the year. We serve 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to anyone who is hungry — a total of over 400,000 meals last year alone. Our health and dental clinic are also at capacity with people lining up before dawn for medical care both downtown and at the beach.

The need for the Sulzbacher Center’s services has simply never been greater. The “turn-away” numbers are simply staggering. From June of 2008 through the end of last month, we could not respond to over 20,000 requests for help — that is almost 55 requests every single day!

When the Sulzbacher Center opened in 1995, the city committed to $600,000 in funding for the operation of what was then called “the city’s homeless shelter.” Today, almost 15 years later, we have pending requests for about $750,000 that cover critical shelter operations on our campus. That is an average increase of just $10,000 a year — a small investment when you consider the huge increases in the number of people the center has served during that time.

The funding cuts that you have outlined will have enormous consequences for the Sulzbacher Center and the citizens we serve. The Board of Directors met in emergency session this morning to finalize a plan of operations if these cuts take place. I believe it is important for you and all of the citizens in this caring community to know what will happen if our City funding is lost:

Elimination of meals for non-residents:

As you know, the Sulzbacher Center currently serves a hot, nutritious meal, 3 times a day, to anyone who is hungry. We currently serve over 500 hundred meals to men women and children each day who are not living with us, but are standing in line at our front gate in all kinds of weather because they need food. We will not be able to feed them.

Elimination of shelter for families with children:

We currently operate two family dorms that allow homeless families to stay together at the Sulzbacher Center, working hard to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into our community. The staffing this requires — resident advisors, case managers, security and program assistants — will have to be eliminated. We will use our children’s building as a day time only resource center for homeless families and a place for children to play and be children, even though they may be sleeping in their car at night. In the last year alone we were home to 439 children who came here with their mother, their grandmother or sometimes both, because they simply had no where else to go. We had over 4,000 requests from families that we were not able to respond to immediately because we were at capacity. With foreclosures continuing to rise, we expect these numbers will continue to grow at an alarming rate for the foreseeable future.

We do not make these decisions lightly. We know that these reductions in service will have repercussions across our entire community. When people are hungry, they are more likely to become ill; they become unable to work and they begin a spiral into homelessness that is very, very difficult to return from. Without shelter, children will drop out of school and families will be forced to take desperate measures to simply survive, resulting in an enormous drain on other social service agencies and the criminal justice system. We have a model program in place here at Sulzbacher that relies on a relatively small investment by City government. The Board of Directors at the Sulzbacher Center is committed to ensuring that our elected officials understand the importance of this funding and the enormous impact it will have on all of us if this funding is lost.

Michael J. Gehlen

Chair, Board of Directors

The Sulzbacher Center