For Linda Harris, after years of struggle, life is looking up. The 57-year-old Mesa resident, a domestic violence victim and recovering drug addict, is a program manager at the halfway house where she herself spent a year.
Her teenage daughter’s back living with her, and Harris is on her way to regaining her nursing license.
None of that would have happened, says Harris, but for the added support of Save The Family Foundation, a Mesa nonprofit, which gave her a home to stay in temporarily and other support as she made the transition back to economic and emotional independence.
“I probably would not have been clean and sober today; I could have been on the streets,” Harris said.
Instead, she now has a savings account and “loads of confidence” about being able to get back on her feet.
Success stories like Harris’ make it doubly harder for Janice Parker, executive director of Save The Family, to digest a 30 percent cut in funding by Mesa, a proposal that she says, combined with cuts from other sources, could soon result in 63 Mesa residents losing housing and support.
Mesa is one among numerous other state and municipal entities that support such nonprofits financially. But this year, because of budget cuts, the city’s having to cut back on its contribution to these programs.
Save The Family is just one of a number of local social-service groups that are expected to take 30 percent cuts to their budgets in the coming weeks due to Mesa’s fiscal woes. In all, the city plans to cut more than $250,000 from these groups.
The proposal, which for Save The Family means $54,000 less than what it got last year, is on its way to the City Council, which is expected to discuss the issue on Thursday.
In a recent e-mail to Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, Randy Gray, president and CEO of the Marc Center, pointed out that compared to the $30,000 it got from Mesa 15 years ago for vocational services programs, Marc is now whittled down to a proposed $8,500.
Marc Center has a vocational training program for Mesa residents with severe mental illness.
“What prompts me — on behalf of our board — to advocate for this population is if individuals with severe mental illness do not have alternatives for vocational training and employment, they will be left in the same circumstances that cause them contact with the safety system in the first place: That is homelessness, nuisance citations, arrests, police contact, etc,” wrote Gray.
City Manager Chris Brady said he realizes these cuts hurt programs, but with a $62 million shortfall the city faced in December, cuts had to be made even within the public-safety departments.
“We’ve had to take a big hit everywhere,” Brady said.
But Kavanaugh said there’s an even more “critical” need for the city to make an investment in these agencies because of the economic strain.
Beneficiaries say they understand the city’s need to take that step, in light of the economy. Significant cuts from other sources including the Arizona Department of Economic Security and state lottery funds aren’t helping either.
But some also say Mesa’s not doing enough to support them, given that a significant number of their clients are Mesa residents.
“In the past, Mesa has never kept up with each year’s inflationary costs of services and have even been cutting funding in the past few years,” said Parker. “But this is the most substantial cut yet.”
Of 46 families on Save The Family’s waiting list, 26 were from Mesa, she noted, which means these families may not get a home next year.
Lisa Wilson, Mesa’s human services coordinator, said the cuts are part of the planned cuts from back in December up to end of June 2010.
“It’s a very big challenge, that’s the reality,” said Wilson. She added the department’s already cut to the bone, and any cuts from them would leave nobody to administer the programs.
For Mike Hughes, chief executive officer of A New Leaf, which aids domestic violence victims and helps with temporary housing for those in need, the cuts would be a “big blow.”
Combined with other cuts, Mesa’s cuts could result in reduced quality of service and fewer support staff to deal with their clients, Hughes said.
“We could reach a tipping point when any more cuts would inhibit our ability to do services,” Hughes said.
Bob Evans, president of United Food Bank, said a 30 percent cut would effectively mean losing 50 percent of Mesa’s funding in the last two years. It also means cutting 30,000 meals that would have been provided to Mesa’s needy.
Evans said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the cuts, given Mesa’s financial situation.
“But part of the problem for my organization is that out of the work we do in Maricopa County, 50 percent of our work is done in Mesa, with only 3 percent of funding from them,” Evans said.
That, he said, makes it hard to justify asking for more money from other cities, which are already bearing a bigger part of their cost.
“I’m not a sky’s falling, chicken falling kinda guy, we’ll do everything we can to serve needy folks of Mesa, regardless of the funding, but this is definitely hard on us.”