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Church State Issues

Tempe mixes religion and government

Jul 24, 2013

Arizona Republic

Urban Outreach, upset with funding formula, seeks helping hand in Tempe

By Dianna M. Náñez The Republic | azcentral.com Fri May 31, 2013 10:11 AM

Marty Moritz was often dirty, hungry and ready to give up when he walked into a Tempe church that would open its doors a few times a week to people living on the streets.

At Urban Outreach, a non-profit program of the Tempe First United Methodist Church, Moritz could face his battle with alcoholism without judgment. He could briefly suspend the reality of knowing that when the church closed its doors for the night, he would leave to sleep in a dry stretch of the Salt River bed between Tempe and Mesa.

“It gave us a place to get cleaned up … to get something in our stomachs,” Moritz said of Urban Outreach, which provides showers, a free meal, water bottles, bus passes, clean clothes, and counselors and volunteers who remind church “guests” that there is a path back to a better life.

But now that oasis for Moritz and scores of other homeless people is in trouble after its request for $30,000 through Tempe’s annual Human Service Grant program for non-profits has been reduced to a proposed $4,850, slightly less than the $5,000 it received last year when services had to be cut.

This year, the city is allocating nearly $968,000 for 27 Valley agencies with 40 human-service programs.

The church’s request for $30,000 to help Urban Outreach weather financial woes and get back on its feet was whittled down by the Tempe Community Council, which on behalf of Tempe has reviewed non-profit agency requests for human-services funding for 28 years.

Moritz credits Urban Outreach with helping him believe he deserved and could earn a second chance. In 2010, after 20 years of living on the streets, Moritz got sober and was accepted into a Tempe and Valley of the Sun United Way pilot program that provided permanent housing for people who are homeless.

Moritz said his heart sank when he heard the grant was not near the amount needed to ensure Urban Outreach would be safe from cuts. The program already reduced services last fall.

Urban Outreach clients and congregation members rallied, writing letters in the hope that they could convince the council to reconsider the funding.

First United Pastor Dan Hurlbert reviewed recommendations made by the citizens’ panel of volunteers who evaluated fiscal 2013-14 grant requests for the Tempe Community Council.

“What I found was disturbing to me,” Hurlbert wrote in a May letter to parishioners. “The city of Tempe is in the process of deciding to give out $196,828 (tied to crisis funding) to help homeless people. Of that money, less than $32,000 is for homeless programs in the city of Tempe.”

“The lion’s share of it is going to Phoenix,” he added. “I am outraged by this.”

Tempe water customers who have donated $90,000 for human services through the city’s “Help to Others” fund, fed by voluntary contributions from residents’ water bills, would see their money go to another city, Hurlbert said.

Moritz told The Arizona Republic this week that he wants Tempe to consider shifting funds to Urban Outreach from Phoenix’s Central Arizona Shelter Services, or CASS, near 12th Avenue and Jefferson Street.

CASS originally requested $85,000 from Tempe, and the citizens’ panel recommended the Phoenix shelter receive it. Tempe Community Council’s final recommendation totaled $80,510. Last year, CASS received $83,000.

The panel recommended that Urban Outreach get $15,000. The Tempe Community Council’s final recommendation of $4,850 is a 3 percent reduction from last year’s grant.

“If Urban Outreach closes there will be 200 people out on the street … who knows what will happen to them,” Moritz wrote to the City Council.

At a May 9 study session, the council responded to letters from residents voicing concerns about funding being sent to Phoenix when a vital Tempe program needs support.

At the meeting, Hurlbert thanked the council for funding human-services programs, but questioned the validity of a review panel’s recommendation that $111,600, the second-largest grant, go to a non-profit that the residents rated “D.” Urban Outreach received an “A” rating.

City Council members said they were not convinced that the funding recommendation for Urban Outreach merited a change. Councilman Kolby Granville said he was hesitant to “politicize” the process by which the citizens’ panel makes recommendations.

This week, Kate Hanley, Tempe Community Council executive director, told The Republic that each non-profit received about the same amount of funding as it did last year and any agency outside of the city must still serve Tempe residents.

Hanley added that a reduction in federal funding and the loss of a private-sector partner that had matched the bulk of contributions by Tempe residents has resulted in about $70,000 less than was originally expected for human services. About $758,229, the amount provided for services this fiscal year, from the general fund is proposed to cover the bulk of the funding requests for fiscal 2013-14.

Advocates for the hundreds of homeless people who live in Tempe argue that Urban Outreach has demonstrated its success in providing crisis services that save lives.

U.S. military veteran Gabriel Hernandez said:

“I didn’t just take a shower, I had breakfast and got clothing and access to a computer to do a daily job search. ... I hope you keep Urban Outreach open so they can get more people off the street like me.”

Urban Outreach’s annual services

  • 21,000 guests.
  • 24,000 meals.
  • 7,800 showers.
  • 6,600 free changes of clothing.
  • 672 half-price bus passes.
  • 3,000 bottles of water

Source: Urban Outreach