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Who Will Run Shelter?

Good Shepherd ends role in county shelters.

The county has 10 days to find a contractor to oversee three homeless shelters on The Woods Road.

Staff and volunteers for the Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA), Inc. are walking away from the Leesburg-based shelters on Dec. 1, claiming the alliance lacks the money to sustain the shelters' operations. In April, GSA submitted a proposal to continue providing emergency housing and support services. The county reissued the Request For Proposals (RFP) in August, since GSA did not provide information on budget constraints and on maintenance and operational issues. GSA was the only responder both times.

The RFP delay meant GSA, or the next contractor, could not receive $150,000 in county funds that were available July 1. The funds were a new line item included in the county's budget for fiscal year 2003.

"We can't afford to continue doing this because we aren't getting any money," said Joyce "Joy" Trickett, chairman of the GSA board of directors, which operates on a $300,000 annual budget funded by grants, donations and thrift store earnings. The alliance receives $60,000 in state and federal grants every year that will have to be turned over to the county once the contract expires Dec. 1.

"I think philosophically they changed the way they do business. Good Shepherd Alliance is willing to walk away from the county grant funds," said Tina Borger, chief purchasing agent for the county, at the Nov. 18 Finance and Government Services Committee meeting.

THE ALLIANCE estimated it would have to spend $500,000 to satisfy the requirements of the RFP, including providing 24-hour coverage at the shelters. The shelters do not have the funds or staffing to do so with two part-time employees and a full-time employee, along with two staff volunteers, Trickett said.

"I agree it should be a 24-7 program out there, but we can't afford 24-7. You're not going to get it for $150,000," Trickett said. "No one would take on these shelters, because it's not enough money, so why would the Good Shepherd Alliance?"

The GSA board of directors wrote a letter dated Nov. 18 to the Board of Supervisors, stating their withdrawal. The board had voted Nov. 8 to not enter into a new contract.

"They have given us no transition plan, and they never gave us one. We didn't even know if we were going to be the contract awardees," Trickett said. "We can't work under the terms and conditions of the county. We can't achieve the goals of helping others, putting all the money into ground maintenance. That's the reason we can't work together."

"I'm extremely disappointed in Good Shepherd Alliance. They have appeared before us several times asking for more and more funding," said James Burton, finance committee chairman. "We are providing the money, but they don't want to provide the service. The people who reside in the shelters will suffer from this."

Trickett disagreed about the 31 people who are now staying in the shelters. "We have no intentions of leaving homeless people in a house without care," she said. "If we can, we will be helping those people find a place to stay, as will the county."

GSA PLANS to start up another homeless shelter on the alliance's 10-acre property on Limestone School Road near Lucketts. The Hebron facility there has three transitional living units currently occupied by three families. The alliance plans to clean up the site and use the units as homeless shelters for a maximum of 10 people, most likely single women.

"We are going to reduce the scope of the kind of work we do and rebuild. We are going to maintain a men's and women's shelter, but [they] will be on a smaller scope," said Mark Gunderman, vice-chairman of the GSA board. The alliance operates a men's shelter on Ryan Road on property owned by the developers of Brambleton.

"Our approach will continue to be spiritual in kind," Trickett said.

As for the county, Burton tasked staff to review the Salvation Army's bid, which was submitted 10 minutes past deadline, and to identify a way for the county to continue serving the homeless. The county is assisting the shelter's current residents with finding other housing options.

"We tried very hard to establish a relationship, a partnership with the county, but the requirements were too great a burden for us," Gunderman said.

The GSA began operating the homeless shelters under county contract in 1993. GSA served an average of 190 to 200 people a year.