Proposed nonprofit cuts draw fire in San Francisco 

San Francisco spends about a half-billion dollars every year on a group of nonprofits handling an array of services, but the system has faced criticism for lack of accountability.

Last year, 841 nonprofit groups were provided about $477.5 million in taxpayer funds to provide services to San Francisco’s most vulnerable populations, such substance abusers, foster children, the homeless, the unemployed and poor families with children. But as San Francisco’s fiscal crisis continues to worsen, city officials are forced to consider how to measure the success of programs by nonprofits when deciding where to make cuts.

At the center of one controversial cut is Trent Rhorer, the Director of the San Francisco’s Human Services Agency. Rhorer has proposed a $1 million spending cut to supportive housing, where tenants receive services to help them with the problems that led to living on the streets, such as substance abuse or mental illness.

Since all of The City’s 46 supportive housing sites have about the same 95 percent retention rate, even though some groups spend $2,000 per family unit on services and one spends as much as $8,800 per unit, Rhorer has decided to reduce funding to the highest spenders.

“I’m trying to make a policy and budget decision that is based on sound data analysis,” Rhorer said. “One of my jobs is to make sure public dollars are spent in the most effective way possible.”

Homeless advocates have blasted the cut and say it will have devastating impacts, such as layoffs of nonprofit workers and more homeless on the streets, which would only cost The City more.  

The agency is spending $15.7 million on supportive housing this fiscal year and proposes spending $14.86 million next year. The portfolio includes 3,579 family and single adult units.

Deborah Whittle, executive director of Glide Community Housing, the oldest supportive housing group which also spends the most per unit, criticized Rhorer’s idea of a “cookie-cutter” funding approach.

“Our model is our model,” Whittle said. “We’re helping The City. We’re housing the poor and it’s working.”  

The ultimate decision of the funding cut will be up to the Board of Supervisors. The agency’s budget undergoes its first public hearing before the board’s budget committee today.

A June 29, 2009, Grand Jury Report found numerous shortcomings in how The City funds nonprofits, including a lack of evaluation.

Support system

San Francisco’s supportive housing is a key component of the strategy to combat homelessness.  

46 Total supportive housing sites

33 Single adult housing sites

13 Family supportive housing sites

3,579 Single-adult/family units

$15.7M  HSA total spending on supportive housing in FY2010-11

$14.86M HSA total proposed spending on supportive housing in FY2011-12

$1,613 Median cost per single adult unit

$2,578 Maximum rate proposed, 160 percent of median for single adult units

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