Palo Alto nonprofit for homeless, low-income residents faces crisis

Budget deficit, lack of stable funding put programs on shaky ground, provider says

InnVision Shelter Network, the largest provider of services for homeless and needy persons in Palo Alto, is scrambling to find funding for its programs, according to a memo received by the Weekly.

The nonprofit organization, which manages the Opportunity Center's drop-in services and other programs, has been borrowing funding from other programs in its vast network for the past two years, spokeswoman Mila Zelkha told the Weekly.

The problem isn't a lack of interest: Palo Alto's high rate of volunteerism places it among the Network's most engaged communities. But "We have been unable thus far to raise the funds in Palo Alto we need to continue providing these services. We hope to raise awareness of the homeless challenges in the community and engender the local financial support — that is, from those who live and work in Palo Alto. We need to continue supporting those less fortunate in our community," Network leadership noted in the memo.

InnVision Shelter Network is the product of a 2012 merger between InnVision of Santa Clara County, which was based in San Jose, and Shelter Network, based in San Mateo County. Mergers usually take up to four years to straighten out financially, but Palo Alto's programs pose some additional challenges, Zelkha said. The Opportunity Center is the nonprofit's only multi-services drop in center; other services the agency offers are provided in conjunction with housing at 18 sites. These other sites are funded by a wide range of sources, including corporations, government, foundations and individuals. Palo Alto's program is not.

Santa Clara County doesn't provide any funding to the drop-in center, although it does provide funding for the Opportunity Center's housing program, she said.

The Network operates four programs in Palo Alto: The drop-in center, which provides comprehensive, coordinated-care services, including mental health counseling, health care, medication, help with filling out paperwork for benefits, support groups, showers and job counseling; Hotel De Zink, which provides emergency shelter at local churches to 15 chronically homeless adults a day, many who have mental illness; Breaking Bread, a hot-meals program for low-income and homeless persons; and the Food Closet, which provides groceries and ready-to-eat food to homeless and low-income Palo Altans.

The cost of these services is $813,000 annually. But the programs only receive $225,464, according to the nonprofit's annual budget. That leaves a $587,536 deficit. The Community Working Group, which owns the Opportunity Center building, provides $125,000 for operational expenses from its endowment; the City of Palo Alto pays out $49,515 annually from its Community Development Block Grant program and Human Services Resource Allocation Process grants, according to the budget. That funding covers only part of the drop-in center's $641,060 budget; there is no other funding, Zelkha said.

Shelter Network officials "went into the merger with their eyes open," Zelkha said of the funding gap. The new organization originally received generous transitional funding from corporate donors, including the Sobrato and Packard foundations, for merger costs, but with no one else willing to step up, the situation has reached a tipping point, Zelkha said.

Dr. Donald Barr, Community Working Group founder and board member, said the group has been very pleased with the InnVision Shelter Networks' quality of work and its cooperative staff and programs. But the Working Group has also had to dip into its endowment to pay for expenses that have been higher than projected.

"We can't go further into the endowment," he said. The Working Group receives donations, but they are never enough to cover all of the costs, he said.

"The city should take a long, hard look if the services should be budgeted through the Human Services Task Force to ensure stability," he said.

There has been no discussion of cutting services at this point, he added. But Zelkha said the Network has been making adjustments. In May, it reduced the Breaking Bread hot meals program from seven to five days per week, saving $22,000 annually.

"We are redoing programs from the inside out," she said.

The nonprofit is working with Second Harvest Food Bank to become the host agency for its food closet program. And CalFresh, a federally funded program that helps low-income people buy food, can provide additional resources, she said.

The nonprofit has also submitted a memo to Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian to help get the county's social services agency to provide satellite hours at the Opportunity Center.

"We can add services into the building without impacting costs," she said.

"This building does a tremendous amount of good work ... and it has such great intentions," Zelkha said of the Opportunity Center. "It immediately fulfilled its promise by providing housing. Now it remains this question of how — for the folks who are not housed upstairs — how do we engage those clients and how do we fund those projects?"

Staff in the city's Human Services department were not available for comment. Last year the Human Services Resource Allocation Process provided Innvision Shelter Network $8,920.

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Like this comment
Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 19, 2014 at 9:03 am

I know a family that is currently in the process of going from homelessness to permanent housing because of the work of InnVision. The Opportunity Center gave the children physicals and immunizations so that they could be admitted to the Palo Alto public schools. The staff is knowledgeable, kind and accessible. InnVision is an amazing organization and those of us who live in Palo Alto need to support their efforts with our donations.

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Posted by Susie
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:17 am

The Opportunity Center is a magnet for the homeless, almost none of whom were raised in Palo Alto. Don't fund it, because it will only get worse.

Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:21 am

maybe it's a good idea. you need to be a millionaire to be in palo alto. what a shame for the peninsula that once had a middle-class. it's too difficult for regular people. come on and wise up and come back down to earth

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Posted by Mike Murnane
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I am very surprised that anyone would be negative about the Opportunity Center. My wife was a founding volunteer (of many) and I have collected clothes, etc. many times. This is a super facitity that has helped countless unfortunate people. It provides a wide range of assistance including shelter, clothing, counseling, food and medical. I just can't understand how some with so much are against helping others less fortunate.

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Posted by Susie
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Judy
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Along with Mike, I am appalled that we who have so much would refuse to help others who have not had our advantages and opportunities. We must figure out a way to help this excellent organization.

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Posted by Gail
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I have been working with the Hotel de Zink every morning in July and heard several of our Hotel guests comment about your article. Some were offended by your statement referring to the guests as "15 chronically homeless adults---many who have a mental illness". The people who are in the Hotel come from a variety of life situations and all of them are not chronically homeless nor do they have a mental illness. I think we all need to be careful not to categorize homeless/unsheltered individuals in this manner as stereotypes can be perpetuated. When this happens, often the general public becomes fearful regarding homeless/unsheltered people versus engaging with them and assisting organizations, such as IVSN who provide services for them.

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Posted by Estella
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:18 pm

To: Susie

I'm not sure about you but at the end of the day it doesn't matter where people come from. I'm human just like the rest of people in Palo Alto. Remember one day your going to have to come down to planet earth and breathe the same air as the rest of us. It's attitudes like your give Palo Alto a bad reputation.

It sadden my heart the gap between the rich and the poor.

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Posted by businesses should step up
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Many residents are barely affording to stay here, many have to leave, and the children of current residents can't afford to live here, so there shouldn't be a perception that everybody in Palo Alto is rich. At least not until every house has been bought by a new millionaire. Resident property taxes also carry the weight already.

It's the growth in corporations flocking to Palo Alto that is fueling the frenzy (they are all rich to be able to afford having a business here). This could be an opportunity to have the bigger businesses step up, like HP did.

Like this comment
Posted by Crisis-Crisis--Everywhere-a-Crisis
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 11:01 am

I for one am more than fed up with non-profits always being in a crisis. Management is supposed to be paid to avoid this sort of thing—if the management is competent, and the problems are not caused by unexpected catastrophes.

Before I shed a tear about any of these self-imposed crises, I want to see the budgets for organizations like the Opportunity Center made public—posted right up there on a web-site so that we can see where the dollars are coming from, and where they are going.

Many non-profits have taken to paying their management teams obscene amounts of money for doing work that is not really clear. So, it’s time to open the kimono and let’s see why there is a crisis.

Treating the local community like wealthy, unworldly children, who will give these non-profits money every time they cry wolf makes me just turn tone-deaf. I want to see the details of their finances, otherwise—not even remotely interested.

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Posted by Linda
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 20, 2014 at 11:55 am

I am one of the Breaking the Bread Team Leaders (volunteer). Yes, we feed homeless and mentally ill people. No questions asked ever. Everyone is welcome. We also feed intact families with young children, fragile elderly and people one would never know were hungry and those who do not seem to be mentally ill. The one thing they all have in common is that they are hungry. The food is all donated. As requested by InnVision, each team now also provides the milk at each meal they work. The $22,000 that was cut from the budget paid for a meal coordinator's salary and benefits and took two hot meals out of the mouths of our hungry in Palo Alto each week. It is hardly going to make a dent in the financial shortfall this organization is facing. It is easy to cut the front line. How about looking further up the food chain? That's where the big salaries are. Those in need are those without a voice. InnVision/Shelter Network has taken on the task of trying to end homelessness and hunger. It is a complicated and ever changing need. It is a problem whose cause is different yet the same for each homeless and or hungry person. The people at InnVision/ Shelter Network making these decisions have failed miserably to engage in their work rather than the needy failing to engage in the services available. Just take a look at how they have managed the finances. Where did all of that money go? They have their jobs, their benefits, their homes, their food. They are doing pretty well. Will the homeless, the mentally ill, the old, the hungry go away? I don't think so. They will still be here in Palo Alto, just more hungry and more in need and still without a voice. It is not just money that is needed. Better leadership, better management and some Silicon Valley resourcefulness is what would help here.

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Posted by pa
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Non-profits are managed by payed employees - it is a job like any other job and when sales decline at a company (in this case donations), jobs are threatened. We live in the most generous and humane country on the planet that has many social services to care for those who need help (subsidy housing, food stamps, wic notes, disability, social security, etc.). I view a lot of these humanitarian centers in cities like Palo Alto as job creation for those who want to work in a public sector. I too would want to see their balance sheet and find out how much is paid out in salaries and benefits to people running this do gooder centers. Glide Memorial Church in SF is the only feeding the homeless shelter I contribute to. Glide is run entirely by volunteers and all the food items are donated. The above mentioned organization sounds like a franchise of sorts run by a centralized governing office that has even more paid employees.

Like this comment
Posted by Liz
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:18 pm

We have far too many homeless camping out on our streets begging for money and food. Enough is enough!

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Posted by Susie
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:56 pm

"I'm not sure about you but at the end of the day it doesn't matter where people come from."

It matters to me. I have worked my butt off, as a widowed, single mom, to raise my kids in PA. 2-3 jobs at once. I never, once, applied for welfare. I taught my kids to work, and they did, and do.

PA is becoming a center for the welfare recipients, especially at the OC. [Portion removed.]

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Posted by A
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 2:48 pm

I think unfortunately we have a perfect storm of problems, making it harder for legitimate fundraising.

The problem of poor oversight of nonprofits is one that will come around to bite the legitimate ones if they don't put some effort into getting the whole industry under better oversight.

The problem of mental illness and our lack of a reasonable health care system that covers everyone is another. (No, I am not advocating a government takeover of healthcare, see this blog post if you want to engage in that discussion Web Link ) Unfortunately, mixing people who are temporarily needy with those who are chronically homeless from mental illness tars everyone with the same brush and makes people think the problem is unsolvable. It's two very different problems. (Look at the comment above about Hotel de Zink. They usually go to great efforts to ensure the people they serve are those who just need temporary emergency shelter, not the chronically homeless. A lapse in that standard caused one long-time church member to pull out of the program. The effect of having the chronically homeless from mental illness mixed in with those who need emergency shelter is as negative to the program recipients as to its reputation. And then donations suffer, too.)

The problem of overdevelopment in the area making residents feel pressured in ways that make them hunker down and not trust pleas for help, especially since development interests are inappropriately trying to use low-income housing as a shield for their pillaging. (Witness what happened in Measure D, where the for-profit development interests represented the majority of the project, but it was billed as an affordable housing project, despite it being on a minority of the site -- even while all the money from the City's affordable housing fund was then committed to that property and was unavailable for the actual low-income residents at Buena Vista Mobile Home park when they could have used it to make an offer to buy that property. But now a large swath of residents no longer trust PAHC because of the City trying to push through the residential rezoning that way. Many of the concerns voiced above, above the employees of that organization and others drawing large salaries are also a factor in tarring the whole sector.)

The loss of opportunities to move up and for social mobility that this nation was once a leader in has made people cynical about the actual opportunity they are providing. In my father's era, the American dream was the norm, if you helped a person get by, there were many opportunities for a free higher education and good jobs. Unfortunately, the future is less clear for someone poor who is encouraged to stay in an area that is just so expensive under today's conditions. My own parent moved to college at a lower-ranked state school because it was the cheapest place they could live and go to school, even with out-of-state tuition. Today, suggesting anyone do that runs up against the message of development interests and is called NIMBYism. That may play in public forums, but in private, people can see what's what and calling people names for having a legitimate point in the bigger picture doesn't incline them to give money if they perceive the goal is to keep people here rather than somewhere where the same money will buy more opportunity.

Which is another big point. All the browbeating that those in favor of Measure D did of the rest of the town has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. But you don't incline people to be charitable by guilt for very long, especially if you so relentlessly accuse them of being NIMBYs and not caring about the poor -- to the point that they feel no legitimate concern they have about development will ever be dealt with without them being accused of base motives -- that they give up. That's no joke, as I personally felt so much antipathy by pro-D people that I stopped volunteering to serve meals at a local shelter, and have had to mostly give up on what I would have done to help at BV. Just look at the recent post by Alice Schaeffer Smith, real animus that anyone who had been against the rezoning would have dared to be for saving the affordable housing at BV.

Through that experience, it's as if certain people made the opposition to that project a kind of compassion litmus test and they wanted to take their pound of flesh out of anyone they felt failed it. It continues today, and I think it has a major negative impact on the whole climate of compassion in this area. It's really too bad those on the affordable housing side couldn't see the benefits of partnering with the community in that effort, rather than being associated with the development-crazy City Council and development interests. I think it hurt how a lot of people viewed the Opportunity Center, frankly.

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Posted by abc
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 20, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Consolidate with another similar charity nearby to be more efficient, cut the excess employees and pay less in rent. Example: Microsoft is laying off nearly 17,000 employees to be more efficient. Companies and stores (University Art) are moving to RWC and Menlo Park to save $$ on rent. Aren't the needy persons w/mental illness receive government assistance already .... welfare, social security/disability, food stamps, medicaid. I pay a lot in taxes, willingly, to support social programs.

2 people like this
Posted by John Donald
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 10:53 am

According to Charity Navigator, InnVision Shelter network has excellent financial and transparency ratings. Web Link
It's not hard to find information like this, or to learn more about why people need help, and what this organization and others do to help people get back on their feet.

Like this comment
Posted by Safebiker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

Volunteers and clients rate Innvision highly on GreatNonprofits -
Web Link

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Posted by Mac Clayton
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:45 am

Thank you John Donald and safebiker. I believe that InnVision does good work and that it is only through organizations like it that we can effectively help the homeless. Perhaps if we all make small donations, that will help.

Like this comment
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Perhaps if the CPA spent its overage on helping the OC instead of pretending that "transparency" in government means spending millions on a windowed meeting room it would be better.

Like this comment
Posted by Mimi
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:16 pm

I don't know where you get your information that "The homeless were not raised in Palo Alto". I grew up here, and know at least two individuals, one chronically homeless, and one who was homeless for awhile, and is now housed and working once again, who graduated from Cubberley and Paly respectively.
I know another who was born and raised in Palo Alto, was homeless for a while, and now lives in a Board and Care in San Mateo County.
Mental illness and hard times can hit anyone. Two of these individuals came from working class families (who used to be able to afford Palo Alto) and one from a professional background.
I worked for over 20 years in the County Health Clinics, and know of many people, born and raised on the Peninsula, who were small business owners, Contractors, hard working folks, who lost their homes and/or businesses because of catastrophic illness.
I am glad you were able to raise your children in Palo Alto, and understand that life has been a struggle for you.
I would hope it would give you compassion for others who struggle.

Like this comment
Posted by Librarian
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Hello All,
The Palo Alto Library now offers a great resource called The Foundation Directory Online, which provides those searching for grants and funding to search by location, type of grant wanted, etc. It is also a great resource to find out where a non-profit gets their money and how much they get. There is a listing for InnVision, which shows an address of Menlo Park.

You can access this resource free with a library card within the Mitchell Park Library branch only.

I hope the InnVision staff pay us a visit to find more funding!
Contact the library for more information.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Solon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Susie
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 21, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Mimi, the handful of people in need of assistance, who were raised in PA, is not an excuse to build a large welfare system in PA. They can be dealt with by private charities. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by InnVision does great work.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 21, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Some time ago my kids ran a lemonade stand to raise money for InnVision. They had the opportunity to meet some of the sweet kids InnVision has helped. I checked out the organization. They are one of the good non-profits that helps people TRANSITION to an independent life. Good for them.

I am writing a check to InnVision. Please join me...even if you can only afford $5 or $10. I feel very blessed to have a decent income, food to eat, and a roof over my head. My family is healthy, and we are blessed to be well educated. These blessings came to us through hard work AND good fortune. No one, in this society, gets anywhere "on their own." We all need the help of family, friends and community at some time in our lives. It is a blessing to be ABLE to share.

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Posted by Crisis-Crisis--Everywhere-a-Crisis
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

> The cost of these services is $813,000 annually

For all of those claiming that there is "transparency" in thise non-profits--perhaps you can point to a web-page where this almost $1M is broken down, in terms of services rendered, payouts to those involved, and the actually benefits that these dollars produce?

Would also be interested in why the OC seems to have a more-than $600K yearly structural deficit? What management team has made this decision? And what would be the results of downsizing the yearly deficit?

Like this comment
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Enough of this welfare state in Palo Alto. Stop it and shut down the project. There are other cities that can handle the homeless. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Estella
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 21, 2014 at 8:41 pm

"It matters to me. I have worked my butt off, as a widowed, single mom, to raise my kids in PA. 2-3 jobs at once. I never, once, applied for welfare. I taught my kids to work, and they did, and do.

PA is becoming a center for the welfare recipients, especially at the OC. "

I'm glad you were able to overcome your struggles by working 2-3 jobs as a single mother. You choose to work 2-3 jobs. Nothing wrongs with getting aide, after all we all work for it right? Should people be ashamed of getting aide( SNAP, WIC, Section 8, TANF, Medical) ?

What do the rest of you think ?

Like this comment
Posted by Ronald Saks
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2014 at 8:49 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by Concerned
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2014 at 1:14 am

I pray that Susie and others never come on hard times. Inn Vision Shelter Network has the best record of getting people from homeless to "tax paying" members of society with their help. They have transparency if Susie is willing to look at the web site. Trust me, the employees at Inn Vision Shelter Network are not making huge salaries and many are paying off enormous student loans, and working long hours because they care about the families that for whatever reason find themselves out of a job. They are willing to work, but without an opportunity for a job. They have small children. Inn Vision helps them to get back on their feet. Too many people in Palo Alto are painting the "have nots" with the same brush. I was a single parent with 5 kids and it was tough raising them here. I worked until I was 69 years old and then retired and started working as a Volunteer for Child Advocacy. Perhaps Susie can find some time to Volunteer and get to know some of the stories these families have to tell.

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Posted by abc
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 22, 2014 at 1:32 am

CA Employment Development Department (formerly Unemployment Department) offers the same services. EDD pays for classes at a city college, EDD counselors help with writing resumes, provide interview training and help search for a job. Many companies post job openings at the EDD office and these companies receive tax breaks by hiring people on CAEDD lists. Web Link EDD services are covered with taxes the currently unemployed people paid when they had a job. Why do we have a duplicate service in PA run by a non-profit. This is too much overhead.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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