Resource Center Struggles Over Its Mission

A year after a more permanent sleeping shelter was established for the homeless, its supervision by nonprofits is undergoing reconsideration.

With its treasury empty and rent due, the Laguna Relief and Resource Coalition is considering yielding its role as daytime operator of the city’s homeless shelter in Laguna Canyon, and may take that action perhaps as early as this week.

If that occurs, board members say city officials are likely to contract with the Friendship Shelter, another local organization that now oversees evening meals and supervises overnight hours at the shelter, to take on the additional responsibilities.

“It makes it very difficult with two homeless organizations in town to go after the same money,” said Donna Valenti, executive director of LRRC, who confirmed the possibility that the Friendship Shelter may manage all operations at the canyon shelter.  “We’re not running in the black lately and that’s why we’re redoing our organization.”

Valenti, the only paid executive at the resource center, said bills are current, but the center is running in the red. “I’m not sure whether I’ll have a job or not,” she said.  “You don’t do this for the money.”  Other paid positions are an assistant to Valenti and two van drivers. “We’re in a financial hardship right now.”

The resource center, under the direction of interim board chairman Andy Sigenfeld, is reorganizing its involvement at the shelter and renegotiating its contracts with the city.  One contract is to provide meals at the homeless shelter and transportation for special-needs individuals through a volunteer network and to encourage the use of the shelter’s shower and laundry facilities.  The second is a rental agreement to use a 1,200-square foot building next to the homeless shelter as a food bank for $1,000 a month.

The city agreed to pay $16,662 a month to split between the three service providers managing the shelter.  The resource center was scheduled to receive $500 a month.  Mercy House in Santa Ana receives $1,000 as overseer of the program and Friendship Shelter receives the remaining $15,162 as administrator of the program and overnight operator, providing paid personnel and coordinating all services and activities.

Terms of the contract are too disparate, said board member Arnold Hano.  “The resource center should have never signed it,” he commented.

Independently, the Friendship Shelter also operates a residential interim housing program at 1335 S. Coast Highway for 30 qualified displaced individuals and raises funds and receives grants to support those efforts.

LRRC’s primary function is operating the food bank, which disperses food and clothing to people in need and during emergencies, such as the record-breaking flood last December that displaced more than 120 families in the canyon.

“The flood really destroyed us,” said Valenti, who was hired three months before the December deluge.  “It took all our focus and energy.  We just finished up sending the last checks to flood victims.”  Valenti said seeking donations to operate the homeless shelter as well as to assist flood victims was “the perfect storm” for LRRC.  “Talk about initiation by fire,” she said.

Former LRRC board chair Faye Chapman stepped down last month and Siegenfeld, a volunteer at the center’s food bank and board member, was elected.

“There are going to be other people than myself who are able to take a leadership, more organized, businesslike role at the resource center,” Sigenfeld said.  “Until that other person shows up, I love the resource center and I’m glad to help out.”

Valenti said LRRC is also revamping its bylaws, which will include limiting the chair position to a one-year term.




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