2014-08-29 / Front Page

Samaritan Center saved

By Jessica E. Davis


PLEA FOR HELP—Samaritan Center executive director Betty Eskey asks the Simi Valley City Council for funding to keep the doors of the city’s only homeless resource center open at the Mon., Aug. 25 council meeting. The council granted the center $15,000, enough to get the nonprofit to its $60,000 goal. 
Photos by JESSICA E. DAVIS/Acorn Newspapers PLEA FOR HELP—Samaritan Center executive director Betty Eskey asks the Simi Valley City Council for funding to keep the doors of the city’s only homeless resource center open at the Mon., Aug. 25 council meeting. The council granted the center $15,000, enough to get the nonprofit to its $60,000 goal. Photos by JESSICA E. DAVIS/Acorn Newspapers Thanks to funding that poured in from across Simi Valley before a Sept. 1 deadline, the Samaritan Center’s work to keep 200 active clients off the streets can continue.

Simi Valley residents and business owners pledged $34,000 in the first six days after news broke Aug. 20 that the city’s only homeless resource center could face closure if it did not raise $60,000 by Sept. 1. On Monday, the Simi Valley City Council and the Simi Valley Hospital each contributed $15,000.

“This to me is not about $60,000. It’s not even about the Samaritan Center. This is about the community of Simi Valley stepping up and doing what they do best,” said Betty Eskey, executive director of the nonprofit.


BIG DECISION—Councilmember Steven Sojka discusses what role the city should take to keep the Samaritan Center open during Monday’s meeting. BIG DECISION—Councilmember Steven Sojka discusses what role the city should take to keep the Samaritan Center open during Monday’s meeting. Donations ranging from $2 to $1,000 have come through the door since word got out of the shortfall, she said.

But she’s not resting.

Eskey said she’s hoping to parlay the groundswell of community support into a donor base that will help the center become less reliant on state and federal funding, which has decreased over the past several years.

Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber said he’s never received as many calls from the community as he has on the Samaritan Center’s possible closure.

“I believe it is a community issue and the community is stepping up big-time,” Huber said at the City Council meeting Monday night, which was packed with supporters of the center. The council approved a one-time $15,000 grant from its Community Projects Grant fund, created in 2011 as part of Waste Management’s deal with Simi Valley to expand the landfill.

Budget cuts

The Samaritan Center, which is marking its 20th year, has a budget of about $200,000, with 70 to 80 percent of the budget going toward employee salaries. The center currently has four full-time employees; a fifth full-time employee works winters beginning in November.

The remaining part of the budget goes to operational costs.

The center is expecting a $50,000 grant in December to fund the overnight winter shelter program.

The $60,000 gap came from cuts in state and federal funding. In the past, Eskey said, she’s relied on grant funding, which has been steadily decreasing as more organizations are seeking funding sources because contributions are down for most nonprofits.

“Grant writing takes a lot of work and there is a low percentage of getting what you ask for,” she said.

As part of the center’s costcutting measures, Eskey said, showers are offered only two days a week instead of five days. And the center no longer employs a security guard, who served more as a deterrent than an actual need, she said.

The security guard had been hired in response to Assembly Bill 109, legislation that led to the supervised release of some California inmates to ease prison crowding.

The center might have faced closure earlier this month, but a member of the board of directors, who asked not to be named, paid the month’s salaries and other costs.

Part of the $60,000 shortfall was due to the fact that the $45,000 the center has received annually in the past from a Community Development Block Grant was reduced to $20,000 this year, a decision made by the Simi Valley City Council.

Councilmember Steven Sojka said he didn’t realize the center’s plight when he voted to allocate the Community Development Block Grant to other nonprofits.

“We didn’t know and I don’t think you knew at the time as well,” Sojka said.

Eskey said the center has evolved from being a place where homeless people could pick up food and clothing to something much more expansive and forward thinking.

Now, a person seeking help has to complete a full intake process, sign up as a client and work with a case manager to come up with a plan to improve their situation.

The Samaritan Center has served more than 1,300 people in the year ending June 30. That’s way up from 850 in 2012-13 and 600 the previous year. The center helps 200 clients at a given time, with hundreds more waiting for a spot to open.

Councilman Keith Mashburn, who’s a member of the city’ s Task Force on Homelessness, said he was blindsided by the news that the center could face closure without emergency funds. He pointed to the need to sup- port the center, particularly in light of Simi’s approval in July of a plan to clear out homeless encampments in the city beginning in November, when the PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) program resumes. Those who are living in the encampments will have to rely on the services at the Samaritan Center more than ever, he said.

“ I don’ t want to see the Samaritan Center close. I want to continue this plan we have with the police department and finish it,” Mashburn said.

Sojka emphasized that he believes nonprofits should not look to the city for a handout, but to view the city as a safety net.

“Let the community embrace the organization and let it happen organically,” Sojka said.

Huber issued a plea for the citizens of Simi Valley to donate.

“I think it is important that we as a community step up and we step up on an ongoing basis. The true measure of a community is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens and we are stepping up big-time,” Huber said.

To donate to the Samaritan Center, call Eskey at (805) 579- 9166.

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