So long to community’s human services advocate

Did the Health, Housing and Human Services Coun-cil grow too large?

Hard to say, but the fact that HHHS crested financially at the same time the city – its primary benefactor since its creation in 1993 – moved into full fiscal crises mode certainly didn’t help.

Nevertheless, the advocate organization created to implement the human services element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan some 18 years ago announced this week that it will close its doors on Jan. 21, 2011. The 12-member board of directors and the nonprofit corporation itself weren’t dissolved, and the board plans to provide recommendations next year to the city to address the future of human services on the island.

HHHS Executive Director Jan Lambert said the board will continue to be proactive, but without a functioning organization its future is undetermined.

Lambert said Wednesday that after reaching a pinnacle of about $150,000 in 2008, cuts to HHHS’ budget in 2009 indicated that its funding was at risk as the city’s financial problems continued into this year.

“We believe our model and our blueprint was comprehensive and innovative,” she said. “But the city decided it could not afford us.”

HHHS was created to provide fiscal oversight and disbursed more than $3.6 million of city funds to 18 human services agencies since its inception. City funding grew 360 percent from $70,000 in 1993 to $321,508 in 2010.

The HHHS death-knell arrived early last month when the City Council cut a proposed $119,675 targeted for the agency, leaving it with no money to operate or pay for its two employees (1.5 FTE).

The City Council also trimmed $81,000 from the $324,000 in Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer’s proposed budget going directly to the city’s human services agencies. With HHHS closing, the city has budgeted about $14,000 for distribution of the funding to about a dozen agencies.

What will be lost, according to Lambert, will be the many services that HHHS provided the nonprofits, such as: training, needs assessments, planning and data-base projects that helped the agencies evaluate their effectiveness in the community.

“We are the only organization that looks across the human services network to make sure the wide variety of needs in the community are being evaluated,” she said. “In essence, we took a big picture of the community as a whole.”

HHHS made two community-wide assessments in recent years and formed five follow-up action teams.

“The assessments served as a tool to determine changes in human service needs and to strengthen the island’s agencies,” she said.

Lambert is hopeful that HHHS’ hard work will influence the existing agencies going forward, especially when it comes to their missions and funding.

Before HHHS, the agencies approached the city individually for funding, “and the city had no way of weighing in on their requests because disbursing funds was the only way it was involved,” Lambert said. “That oversight is something that will be missing, unless the city makes an effort to address it in a different way.”

The HHHS board will hold an event on Jan. 27 to celebrate the agency’s accomplishments. For more information, call Lambert or Debbie Kuffel at 842-9335.

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