Editorial: Shelter stability

A city audit may provide some guidance to the Lawrence Community Shelter as it seeks a more stable financial future.

The executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter has the right idea when he says the agency will use a city audit of its finances “as a tool to improve.”

The audit presented to the Lawrence City Commission at its Tuesday meeting provides some useful guidance for the shelter, which had to ask the city and county for emergency funds — $50,000 from each — this year to make ends meeting. After granting the additional funds, city officials approved an audit to look at the causes of the shortfall and what might be done to avoid future funding emergencies.

The audit’s findings aren’t particularly surprising. After a successful capital campaign, the Community Shelter moved into a new and much larger facility in 2012 with plans to give homeless people not only housing but a path to self-sufficiency. The new facility and programs required additional staff, and the shelter’s overnight capacity grew from 75 guests to 125. Since moving to the new facility, the shelter’s total expenses have increased by 40 percent, the audit said — and fundraising efforts just haven’t kept up.

Fundraising likely has been hampered by turnover in the shelter’s top leadership job. Since long-time executive director Loring Henderson stepped down in May 2014, the shelter has had three different people in that position. The current executive director, Trey Meyer, was hired less than a month ago, after serving as director of operations at the shelter for about a year.

Meyer said when his promotion was announced that his “very first priority is to put the shelter on a sound financial footing” by hiring a development director and crafting a fundraising strategy. The city audit also recommended that the shelter improve its monitoring of revenue and expenses and work to build an operating reserve fund, and Meyer indicated he would work toward both those goals.

Before its move, the Community Shelter set an ambitious vision for increased services and programming at its new site. The goals are good, but the shelter needs to stabilize its finances so that it can meet its obligations without continued requests for “emergency” funds on top of the ongoing funding already committed in the city and county budgets.

The Lawrence Community Shelter serves an important and compassionate role in Douglas County, and its leaders appear to be working hard to put the agency on a firm footing. Nonetheless, members of the shelter board told city commissioners Tuesday night that they already had cut staff, salaries and benefits and may have to make more cuts in the face of a projected deficit for next year.

Hopefully, the shelter leaders will be able to turn things around. We wish them well in addressing their financial challenges and hope that the generosity of Lawrence donors, especially during this holiday season, will help move the shelter toward financial stability.