Troubling issues have been no secret for the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. With a growing homeless population, Savannah now is finding out how deep it's problems are with the agency it created in 1989 to help solve the very problem it now deals with on and even greater level today.
As of this week, employees of the Homeless Authority have gone one week without being paid. That's just one issue the city is dealing with, even offering to pay them until federal Housing and Urban Development funding, which Housing Authority board members have been told has been processed.
Thursday morning, the consulting firm hired by the City of Savannah and United Way of the Coastal Empire delivered their formative assessment of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. The report was to determine the current viability and ways to effectively move it towards its goal of eliminating homelessness in Savannah.
It revealed how the struggling agency may have taken an even deeper turn for the worse in 2012.
In early 2012, the city learned the Homeless Authority owed the city $140,000 for health insurance premiums after the agency made a large emergency funding request, and an assessment was performed at the request of then city manager Rochelle Small-Toney.
"She basically said, well I am not going to give any money until I know why we are doing this," Jerry Silverman, consultant fired by the city of Savannah, told WTOC. "That surfaced the fact the Homeless Authority owed the city approximately 140 thousand dollars in health insurance premiums for their own staff that the city would advance and would be repaid by the authority."
However, Silverman says the immediate response was to freeze funding for the authority, setting into effect what the report released Thursday morning shows was a collapse financially, and an exposure of a system which was flawed from the outset.
"The Homeless Authority has to exist in order to authorize federal funding for homelessness in the city. So, you can't freeze it and you couldn't just shut it down," Silverman said. "It damaged everybody. It damaged the entire set of programs, not only the Homeless Authority but shelters, soup kitchens, a variety of things in the city, placed those dependent on federal financing at risk."
By April 2012, the CSAH was essentially bankrupt, according to the report. By the end of August 2012, the CSAH had an accumulated debt of no less than 325 thousand dollars with no revenue to pay it off.
If there is a bright side to any of this, the Homeless Authority report seems to indicate the new board seems to finally have the organization stable.
If anything, council members say matters cannot get much worse after seeing the report.
"It's damning. It's really not good but we expected that," Alderwoman Mary Ellen Sprague told WTOC. "We hit rock bottom when it comes to the Homeless Authority."
"We entered it thinking it was a financial problem," Silverman said of the initial assessment." "We came out with an understanding the financial problems were more a symptom of both institutional and organizational issues, some which were beyond the control of the Housing Authority itself."
Silverman's report suggest reform be lead by the City of Savannah with help from the United Way and task forces to help with restructuring of the Homeless Authority. Silverman said it will take anywhere from a year to 15 months to complete the reform period.