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Archive for Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Practical matter

February 18, 2004

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Why aren't local social service agencies getting the message about the need to eliminate duplication of services?

The local board distributing grant funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending a pretty clear message, but some local agencies that provide services for homeless people don't seem to be listening.

The Emergency Food and Shelter Local Board is responsible for distributing FEMA grants to Lawrence agencies that provide food, rental and utility assistance to the city's poor. Of course, the board is interested in making the best possible use of the funds it doles out. Avoiding duplication of similar services would be a natural area of concern.

That's why the board is giving two local agencies that provide breakfast for homeless people a financial incentive to work more closely together. The Jubilee Cafe serves a sit-down breakfast to about 100 homeless guests every Tuesday and Friday at the First United Methodist Church. Just one block to the west, the Community Drop-in Center offers a continental breakfast Monday through Friday, serving more than 13,000 meals last year. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the city's homeless can eat breakfast at both places, providing an unnecessary duplication of a good service.

Last year, the local funding board declined to fund Jubilee Cafe in an effort to make the point that the agencies should end the duplication. Not to play favorites, the board this year decided to deny funding to the Community Drop-In Center for the same reason. Last year, rather than make any changes in their service, Jubilee Cafe staged a fund drive to raise $3,000 to continue business as usual. This week, an official of the drop-in center said it would be hard to continue the center's breakfast program without the federal funds, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any effort to coordinate services.

Both the Community Drop-In Center and Jubilee Cafe deserve praise for their efforts, but the unwillingness of these agencies to work together is a bit baffling. At the very least, it would seem to make sense for the drop-in center to save some money by not serving breakfast on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Unfortunately, this mode of operation seems to be the standard among local agencies serving the homeless. They all see a need, but philosophical differences prevent them from pooling their resources and talents to deliver services in a more efficient, and perhaps more effective, manner.

The local food and shelter board is only being practical. There's no reason to have -- or to fund -- two breakfast programs, located one block apart, that serve the same people on the same days. Hopefully the two programs will be equally practical and see the wisdom of trying to coordinate the services they provide.

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