The only place where homeless and hungry people can hope to find beds and three meals a day can’t afford to keep out the welcome mat unless Missoula can reverse the fortunes of the 27-year-old institution.
Two weeks ago, the executive director and board of directors of the Poverello Center announced the organization needed $150,000 for such basic expenses as the next week’s payroll.
A $77,000 flurry of cash soon arrived at the 70-bed shelter downtown, including a $50,000 anonymous donation forwarded last week by a Helena accounting firm. And if a 35-bed family home in the Rattlesnake can be turned over to an outside agency, the Poverello could trim $90,000 from its annual budget of $590,000.
But the problems go deeper and demonstrate the sometimes precarious business of running a nonprofit. Basically, the Poverello has no reserve funds to prevent a repeat of the current shortfall, according to Executive Director Jan Blayden and President of the Board Doug McClelland.
“Because the building seemed to crumble all at one time and the numbers [of clients] rose so fast, [we] spent the reserves,” says Blayden. “And at the same time there was no fundraising campaign.”
An across-the-board increase in wages to $8 an hour strained the previously balanced budget last year. Then reserves were spent on renovations to the dining room, kitchen, porch and the 1920-era structure because it seemed like an emergency when the first contractor failed to complete the job and its bonding agency went bankrupt.
“The siding was literally falling off,” Blayden says.
“And if you let things go too long, soon they’re in really bad shape,” adds McClelland.
On average, 90 people spend the night at the downtown shelter. About 325 people are expected in the dining room each day this summer, up from 150 during the winter season. Overall, the number of clients rose about 20 percent last year, a growth which shows no sign of stopping.
“We knew it was time to ask for help,” Blayden said.
Since then, donations have poured in while Blayden and the board tighten their belts. The board would like to relinquish operation of the Joseph Residence and although they’ve received some interest, negotiations are being kept private.
The board has also asked Blayden to reduce the annual budget to $300,000, an amount they consider sustainable based on the organization’s fundraising history. The Poverello is also considering an undesirable option: saying no to food and shelter in an effort to maintain client services.
“The board is requesting we house only 70,” Blayden says. “We want a manageable number.”
A client service coordinator supervises programs that help people find permanent housing and jobs. People can also receive mail and a basic medical evaluation by Partnership in Health. In effect, the client services function ahead of the shelter and kitchen.
Cutting costs is only half the equation. Earning more money—hopefully from fresh sources—is the other. At $5 a ticket, the center plans to raffle off a 1977 Bobcat Mercury station wagon with wooden side panels at the Missoula County Fair in August. A “Raise the Roof” event will take place June 15 and increased emphasis will be put on the “Many Tables, One Meal” campaign.
“People invite friends to their home, feed them, and ask that they donate the cost of an evening out to the Poverello,” Blayden says. Of course, homelessness will not vanish if the Poverello closes its doors. Likewise, hunger won’t disappear and Cynthia Roney, executive director of the Missoula Food Bank, is well-positioned to know the ramifications of this possibility.
“We will be severely impacted if the Pov closes its soup kitchen,” Roney says. “People need somewhere to go. That would be us and we don’t provide a hot meal.”
The Food Bank already receives 30,000 individual visits each year at its main distribution center on Third Street. The Food Bank also conducts home delivery and satellite programs in schools and at the Missoula Indian Center.
Addressing a financial crisis can be daunting for Missoula nonprofits as money replaces the original mission as the staff’s focus. For example, when the International Wildlife Film Festival failed to land a large grant and ran up a deficit in the fall of 2000, the doors were closed and a period of dormancy began.
“The public perception was that we were OK [but] I’m still dealing with that doubt whether it can be stable and the programs viable,” says Executive Director Janet Rose. “So you need to have faith.”
So far, the redoubled efforts of the Film Festival are working. Rose reports that they’re two-thirds of the way toward meeting a $250,000 goal by June 15, a potential closing date on the Roxy Theater property. But for Blayden, there was no option to hesitate or to even consider the consequences of appearing to be a “sinking ship.”
“People still need basic supplies: food, shelter, and clothing,” Blayden says.
The Poverello relies heavily on a small but steady flow of donations from dedicated supporters. It’s an important and reasonable source, according to former Board President Liz Rantz, but larger and more dependable sums need to be cultivated as well.
“[People] tend to be generous whenever they get a phone call,” Rantz said. “But they have no giving plan.”
According to Rantz, the entire nonprofit community in Missoula has failed to create a “culture of philanthropy” in which she differentiates estate planning and calculated annual contributions from casually open wallets and plea-based donations.