County Grants $30K to Diakonia Shelter in Fiscal Crisis

SNOW HILL- Diakonia homeless shelter got a reprieve this week when the Worcester County Commissioners voted to grant the non-profit $30,000 to keep the shelter open.

Earlier this month, Diakonia executive director Claudia Nagle asked the Worcester County Commissioners for $65,000 to operate the 45-bed emergency shelter and transitional housing until the new fiscal year in July. The shelter, Diakonia Treasurer Roy Frick reported at that meeting, was flat broke.

The commissioners discussed Diakonia’s request during a break in this week’s Tuesday morning commissioner meeting. The matter was not scheduled for discussion.

“I feel that we should support Diakonia,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who suggested a grant of $30,000. “I don’t know where we would get the money to support them fully.”

Commissioner Bud Church agreed. “I think Diakonia provides a service that is so different from the other groups we have in the county and have proven their worth,” he said. “Because of the need, it should be closer to the amount they’re asking for.”

“Maybe we can’t do the whole $65,000, [but] $30,000 is not going to get them through the next three months,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger.

“I agree that Diakonia serves a very worthy purpose and helps our most vulnerable citizens,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “People are great and do respond when there is a need. I have a lot of confidence that the entire community will respond. Of course, we’ll be monitoring it.”

As the commissioners have repeatedly warned, and as the state budget woes have borne out, money will be very tight this fiscal year.

“I’m in favor of doing everything we can to keep the doors open but budget time is coming,” Commissioner Jim Purnell said.

Others said the same situation could arise next year. “This year is going to be very difficult for the county. Next year may be worse,” Boggs said.

Diakonia serves Worcester County residents, as well as people from Wicomico County, Commissioner Linda Busick said, and those other jurisdictions should help.

“I would like to see each municipality come forward with a contribution,” said Busick.

“I would like to see Ocean City make a match to help Diakonia,” said Gulyas. “If they went to Ocean City maybe they would come up with some money.”

Worcester County, Ocean City, and Berlin contribute to Diakonia during the regular budget processes.

The town of Salisbury, in Wicomico County, acts as the recipient of state pass-through funding for the shelter.

“We know $30,000  won’t do it,” said Church. “As a compromise, I’d like to say we grant them $50,000.”

The commissioner was unable to get the motion already on the floor, for a $30,000 grant, altered.

The commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of the $30,000 grant, with Cowger and Church opposed.

“I’m opposed to the amount, not giving them the money,” Cowger said.

Shockley said Diakonia could ask for more funding in their regular budget request during the upcoming budget process.

“I was very pleased,” Nagle said of the commissioners’ decision. “I know they probably had difficulty figuring out where to get funds. I appreciate the willingness to invest in Diakonia.”

Guests at Diakonia can relax for another few weeks, certain that they can spend a little more time in their temporary home.

“People are really pleased. They feel somewhat relieved,” Nagle said.

While the amount granted by Worcester County is less than half the shelter’s request, Nagle was upbeat about raising more funds.

Nagle will go before the Ocean City Town Council at the first April meeting to request help. She also plans to contact other municipalities to request support.

Also under consideration are grants and different funding streams, but these options cannot help with the immediate crisis.

Since the news of Diakonia’s money woes broke two weeks ago, the shelter has received some community support, Nagle said.

“We have had monetary donations and offers to help us with fund raising over the next few months,” Nagle said.

The commissioners would like to see Diakonia staff and directors look more closely at their budget.

“Next year they’re going to have to work with a tighter budget or something,” said Cowger.

Worcester County is one of the few counties in Maryland that offers grant money to non-profits, and organizations are becoming dependent on county help, according to Boggs.

“We’re getting to a point where we’re almost the victim of our own generosity,” said Boggs.

Diakonia requested $100,000 from the Worcester County budget last year, only to be assigned just $20,000, as had been the practice for several years.

The need for services has increased, but funding levels have not, and donations and bequests have slowed down as the economy has slowed. In the past, the shelter has been able to keep going during funding gaps from timely donations, but no such largesse has arrived to bridge this shortfall.

“We asked for $65,000 because we needed $65,000,” Nagle said.

The shelter would not have approached the commissioners if there were any other recourse.

“I’m very cognizant of the situation and if it hadn’t been a very dire situation. We try to avoid doing that at all costs,” said Nagle. “It’s a bare bones budget. We don’t have things like staff training. We don’t have agency provided cell phones.”

Sixty-four percent of the budget goes toward staff salaries. Diakonia has four full time staffers, including Nagle, as well as a program coordinator, senior case manager, and property manager.

The shelter also has 11 part-time employees, including part-time case managers, and overnight attendants, support, and maintenance.

Diakonia needs a trained, professional staff and coverage 24 hours a day.

“It is labor intensive and you need people who know what they’re doing,” Nagle said. “If only it were simple and it was a matter of giving them a bed, getting them a job, and then they move on and are fine.”

Despite continuing challenges, Nagle, staff, and guests continue to have hope.

“I have faith we’re going to get through this,” Nagle said. “We’re going to learn a lot. It’s going to strengthen us.”