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Negotiations Authorized with St. John’s Community Services, to Become Tompkins’ Homeless Housing Services Provider

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Negotiations Authorized with St. John’s Community Services, to Become Tompkins’ Homeless Housing Services Provider

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Following a detailed presentation from department administrators September 10th, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee has given preliminary consent to the Department of Social Services’ favored choice for a new provider of homeless housing services in Tompkins County. 

The committee authorized the Department to begin negotiations with St. John’s Community Services, which would begin to provide those services as of November 1st.  The Department will next come back with a resolution seeking formal approval of a contract with St. John’s, along with requested committee authorization for a necessary adjustment to the 2018 homeless services budget.

St. John’s Community Services was one of three respondents to the County’s Request for Proposals (RFP), issued in July, seeking a new provider for homeless housing services, with the anticipated change in the County’s current contractor, the Rescue Mission of Syracuse, as of the end of October.  The County also received RFP submissions from two other faith-based organizations, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.  All three proposals received exceeded the current budget allocation, Commissioner of Social Services Kit Kephart said.

Based in Washington, D.C., St. John’s Community Services (SJCS) provides vocational, community-based supports and residential services in five states.  St Johns’ current Chief Executive Officer previously served for more than two decades as Chief Operating Officer and CEO of the Syracuse Rescue Mission, and its executive team includes Richard Bennett (Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer), who had served as director of the Ithaca Rescue Mission until earlier this year.  “We believe this experience will help guide and support local leaders in partnering with DSS and Tompkins County,” the organization’s submission states. 

SJCS indicates that it will hire direct service and leadership staff with local experience in serving homeless persons who often are struggling with addiction and/or mentally illness and that Mr. Bennett, who works in Tompkins County, will provide support and direct supervision of the local agency’s director.  It is also noted that, through Mr. Bennett, the organization brings experience in working with the local Continuum of Care collaboration in planning and implementation of solutions for addressing homelessness.

The RFP sought a provider to maintain emergency sheltering services and day drop-in services (the Friendship Center), as well as to facilitate after-hours placements in motels when shelter capacity is exceeded, and to work with DSS to meet State requirements to house homeless persons under the “Code Blue” cold weather policy. 

Commissioner Kephart told the committee that making a decision among the three potential providers was difficult, but described the St. John’s submission as a well thought-out proposal which includes a valuable focus of seeking to move people beyond their homeless situation and forward with their lives.  The Department sees St. John’s as a provider that can continue the County’s homeless housing services in a respectful and safe way. 

The preliminary total net local cost of services through SJCS, identified through the RFP, is $501,162, roughly $300,000 above cost of the current contract.  Commissioner Kephart told the committee the amount appears to be a better match with current need and service provision in light of current conditions and demand.  The matter of start-up costs has yet to be finalized, and will be discussed as part of the upcoming negotiations. 

As well as the requested budget adjustment for 2018, which will be coming to the committee for approval, County Administrator Jason Molino said the new homeless housing services contract would also require an amendment to the 2019 Recommended Budget, to accommodate a $300,000 increase in local funding for homeless housing services.  The proposed adjustment will be discussed as part of the DSS budget presentation to the Expanded Budget Committee Monday, September 17th. .