County Will Not Continue $20K Diakonia Grant

WEST OCEAN CITY – Diakonia homeless shelter will not be assigned any funding from Worcester County in fiscal year 2010.

The $20,000 grant offered to the shelter by Worcester County each year for the last several was 15 percent of the shelter’s operating budget.

“There just isn’t any money,” said County Commission President Louise Gulyas. “We have to make drastic cuts.”

The county is facing an estimated $11 million to $13 million shortfall. The numbers are not yet firm.

Last March, Diakonia was forced to ask Worcester County for funding to get the shelter through to the new fiscal year in July. The county contributed $35,000 and community donations and fundraising brought in enough to keep the shelter open.

“The community here really rallied around us. That’s helped us maintain since last year,” Diakonia Director Claudia Nagle said.

The shelter, which is the only organization serving homeless individuals and families on both a short- and long-term basis in the county, recently received a letter from the county signed by county administrator Gerry Mason relaying the bad news that the county would not be sending out or accepting grant applications from non-profits for the fiscal year 2010 budget.

“What they’re telling us is that our county funding is going to be zero,” Nagle said. “We’re scrambling trying to figure out how we’re going to fill that void.”

Diakonia relies on a patchwork quilt of money from scattered sources, including federal and state funds, Worcester County, Ocean City, foundations, and private donations.

“I know that they need funds. I believe the people will have to step up and help,” Gulyas said. “The people themselves are in dire straits. We’re all suffering through this together.”

The rest of the community, which stepped in to help out in a big way last spring, can only do so much, Nagle said.

Currently, Diakonia needs more help than ever, with more locals finding themselves without a place to sleep at night.

The shelter’s food pantry is giving out twice the food it used to in the last four months. Nagle called the food pantry a safety net for working families struggling to pay housing costs.

“I see our services as essential,” Nagle said. “There’s nothing else that’s going to catch these folks.”

There are fewer opportunities for the shelter’s guests, too, as employed people pick up second jobs. Those currently employed often have better skills than the shelter’s guests, who might have been out of the job market. Diakonia requires guests to find work and save money toward moving out on their own.

“People are having difficulty finding employment. Without income, they’re really stuck. That’s been going on since before Christmas,” said Nagle.

It is unclear whether federal stimulus funds could trickle down to the shelter, but Nagle is attempting to find out. However, federal funds usually require a local match.

“It’s a full-time job to understand what and how it all comes together,” Nagle said.

Funding from other sources, much of which is undetermined, could also drop. Many foundations derive their donations from stock market holdings, which could mean fewer or lower grants.

“We’re able to maintain ourselves right now,” Nagle said. “We’ve instituted every cost savings we can think of.”