Nov. 6—The Lockport CARES Inc. is located at 188 Genesee St. in Lockport where it has provided services — including emergency shelter for 10 consecutive-days — for those who find themselves homeless and has done so for 14 years. The shelter has always relied on the donation drives it holds each year, but it also received funding through Niagara County Department of Social Services.
But this year funding sources and regulations have shifted so that Lockport CARES, and any homeless shelter in the state of New York, is required to certify with the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, as well as follow regulations if they expect to be funded.
For Rev. Kevin Wing, executive director of Lockport CARES, those regulations would keep the shelter from providing its unique services to its guests, and said that the shelter would not be seeking to certify in January. Instead, it would be doubling down on events such as Movie Night at the Palace Theater this month.
"We're going to have to ratchet up donations from one-time givers," Wing said.
Wing also said that he would be looking into forming partnerships with businesses and corporate partners, but that it is "a big hit" for the shelter as the government funds are "significant."
Still, having served over 200 guests, Wing said that he is willing to stick it out to keep providing services the way Lockport CARES always has.
"We wouldn't be able to prepare home-made meals because we don't have a commercial kitchen," he said. "We'd have to hire 24/7 staff for the shelter."
Wing also noted that he would be unable to turn away an individual on drugs from staying at the shelter, something he believed would cause other guests to fall back into substance abuse.
"We have to protect our guests," he said.
Lockport CARES and Wing are not the only ones who have had to walk-away from funds that they would otherwise gladly use to help those in their care.
Tom McLaughlin has been working as the executive director of the Niagara Gospel Mission in Niagara Falls for two-years, though his career in missions has gone back for 20. He said that what Lockport CARES is looking at is a, "heavy lift," but that, thus far, his shelter has done without funding.
"There's a per diem for beds (with that funding)," McLaughlin said. "If you have 10 men at $40- to $50-a-night, then you're leaving $400 to $500 daily that could be used to do more."
McLaughlin said the crux of the situation is that many homeless shelters are faith-based.
"We should be able to get it, but we're a gospel mission and part of who we are is the belief that people can have a life-changing experience and overcome any challenge if they have a relationship with Jesus," he said. "The state would hinder us from relaying that message and we can't function if we can't follow our core values."
McLaughlin noted that the Niagara Gospel Mission gets funding from corporate and individual donations, as well as fundraising.
For Wing and his board members, including Rev. Alan Bauch, the president of the shelter's board, the abuse of a few have have started a turn toward more control by the state. Wing said he believed that people were taking advantage of the laxness of regulation and now he and his shelter are paying the price.
Bauch broke down the situation.
"In a nutshell, New York state over the years has increased their regulatory control over homeless shelters and now has said if you don't meet all the criteria they specified, not just conditions, but procedures, they will not certify you to receive reimbursements for stays of homeless people," Bauch said.
Bauch and Wing noted that sometimes the Department of Social Services will send a homeless person to a hotel which, "has no services in place," and costs more than the reimbursement to Lockport CARES. If shelters do shut down, Wing said, or become unable to take in guests, it's the taxpayer which will be holding the bill.
Commissioner Meghan Lutz of Niagara County of Social Services agreed that her office has placed homeless individuals and families into hotels, but noted that they must, "meet the financial eligibility set by OTDA in order for social services to be able to provide assistance with shelter."
"We also talk with them about friends, family or any other resources they might have before we place them in shelter," Lutz said. "That is always the last resort."
Lutz painted a picture of what kind of procedures there were for homeless shelters in New York.
"All homeless shelters — in order to receive any funding through the OTDA — they have to be certified now," she said. "There was really no formal certification before. They had to fill out a complete a homeless services plan that would be submitted to the county which it would send to the state to approve, but that process is going away and the new regulations take effect on Jan. 1."
Lutz noted that just because Lockport CARES is no longer receiving funds, her office would still reach out to all homeless shelters when a homeless individual needs some place to stay.
"We can utilize them, but we cannot pay for the service," she said. "We love Lockport CARES and it's unfortunate they won't receive certification, but we will still do our best to partner with them when it makes sense for our clients."
For Bauch, he is invested with what's been tried and true for him and the shelter.
"We view our operations as a ministry, a Christian ministry, so the fact that New York State won't reimburse us, that's not going to change the way we operate," Bauch said.