Sarasota Salvation Army cuts free dinner and shower services to public

From the onset of the pandemic to the current housing crisis, the area’s nonprofits have been a lifeline for a deluge of residents struggling to stay afloat due to illness, loss jobs or soaring rents.

But now — after wave after wave of hardship that has hit both the people they serve and their own employees — nonprofits are also taking on water.

A recent survey by United Way Suncoast reveals that a combination of growing demands for services, skyrocketing costs and stagnant donations are taking their toll on nonprofits in the region.

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Namely, agencies are reporting alarming staff shortages, fundraising shortfalls and mental health issues for clients and staff – challenges that threaten services for countless struggling households that rely on them to get help.

In the case of the Sarasota County Salvation Army, the impact has already been felt.

Starting in May, the agency was forced to cut its free dinner and shower services for members of the public who are not signed up for its programs.

“We just don’t have the manpower to keep up,” said Brenda Downing-Wiggins, the organization’s chief operating officer.

Employees face the same housing issue as the customers they serve, Downing-Wiggins said.

“Over the last three to six months we have probably lost, I would say, 20-30% of our staff due to the fact that they cannot afford to live in the area and have to relocate” , she added.

The organization is currently at 78% staffing capacity, down from a normal level of 95%, she said.

“The simple ability to get applicants has never been more difficult,” she added.

Volunteer Hilda Murphy serves hot meals to patrons of the Sarasota County Salvation Army Shelter on 10th Street in Sarasota.

Shortage of housing, rental rates increase the need for services

At the same time, the need for services is greater than ever. Soaring rents and the lack of affordable housing are sending people to their doorsteps who have never been homeless before.

Additionally, the agency was unable to hold its major annual in-person fundraiser last year due to the pandemic, leading to a significant loss of revenue as food and utility expenses skyrocketed. .

Decreasing labor and income and increasing demand have led to tough choices in reducing services for customers.

“The first thing we looked at was if there was something else in the community for them because we never want to cut a safety net,” Downing-Wiggins said.

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But for many people who work during the day and depend on that shower and a hot dinner, they will have nowhere to go.

Randall L. Wright is one of them. The 58-year-old Sarasota man works day labor in construction until late afternoon or early evening – long after the free meals, showers and laundry at the Remnant Cafe have closed or at the Resurrection House.

Amid the housing crisis, forced to sleep outside after being recently released from prison while struggling to clear his record, Wright said his efforts to steer his life towards a new career path may seem herculean in the face of declining services.

“I feel like I’m pushing multiple boulders up a hill,” he said.

Tammy Burns, director of homeless ministry at Remnant Cafe, predicts the reduction in Salvation Army services will result in more vulnerable people having to take time off work to visit her agency or Resurrection House during the day. .

“I think most of them take it as one more thing against them, that ‘we’re trying to try to try, and that’s one more thing that’s holding us back from succeeding,'” he said. she declared.

A ripple effect

Nonprofits’ problems will continue to compound the hardship for area residents, said Josh Dunn, United Way Suncoast’s senior director for investments and partnership strategies.

“Community agencies are one of the first places families and business owners turn to for help during difficult times,” Dunn said. “If these nonprofits are unable to accommodate families and provide support due to understaffing and lack of funds, people will fall through the cracks.”

The United Way Suncoast investigation, conducted in March, involved 50 nonprofits in its five-county service area — which includes Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The findings mirrored those of last fall’s survey of nonprofits conducted by the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, revealing severe pressure on agencies amid rising operating costs and rising demand for services.

Stress and mental health issues

Besides labor shortages, another big area of ​​concern for nonprofits in the wake of waves of anxiety-provoking crises is the mental and physical health of clients and staff, the survey showed.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast — which serves 10 counties, including Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte — management has responded to severe staff and customer stress with a greater emphasis on mentorship and emotional support, said Joy Mahler, President and CEO.

While coping with economic pressures with help from area foundations – providing staff with laptops to enable them to work remotely and helping with transportation costs and rising prices of l essence – leaders brought in a human resources specialist to also focus on mental health needs.

“We’re focusing more on the emotional needs of our staff than on training right now. We’re going to make it a fun day,” she said.

As agencies mobilize to prevent burnout among their staff, for social workers in the trenches, every day on the job can feel like triage in the emergency room.

Some struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the desperation in callers’ voices, compassionately guiding them toward possible solutions.

Susan Schoengold is the Jewish Financial Assistance and Jewish Care Management Coordinator at Suncoast's JFCS.

“I just pick up the phone, call the person, see what we have, like a doctor, bring it in and have it x-rayed and look into the situation,” said support coordinator Susan Schoengold. Jewish finance and Jewish care. Management at JFCS of the Suncoast.

Her husband is also a source of support – greeting her with home-baked ziti after a hard day – as is her 92-year-old mother, who lived through the Great Depression.

But even for Schoengold – who has been praised by clients for her caring and dynamic approach – this housing emergency looks different, the solutions she seeks for increasingly elusive clients, with no end in sight.

At the end of the working day, the stories stay with her – the old people on fixed incomes whose price is exorbitant, the disabled single mother living in her car.

It could happen to anyone. How long, she says, she wonders, before it happens to me.

“Maybe it affects me even though I’m so positive,” she said. “But when the day is over, I go to bed at night with a great fear of mine.”

United Way Nonprofit Survey

A March survey by United Way Suncoast of nonprofits in the region revealed a large social safety net under severe strain. Some of the main results:

  • 60% of respondents say they are very concerned, 26% somewhat concerned about maintaining adequate staff
  • 62% said they were very concerned, 22% somewhat concerned about the provision adequate compensation and resources for employees
  • 60% said they were very concerned, 20% somewhat concerned about cost increase and expenses
  • 52% said they were very concerned, 36% somewhat concerned about the physical and/or mental health of employees
  • 54% said they were very concerned, 40% somewhat concerned about the physical and/or mental health of clients
  • 38% say they are very concerned, 28% concerned about the loss of income and income
  • 44% said they had clients deceased due to COVID-19 or complications, while 10% had lost staff to the virus

Richard F. Gandhi