Tougher Grant Season for Groups

Nonprofit groups seeking financial assistance from Gilroy will
have to focus on food, shelter and other

direct services

in their grant applications next year, or risk losing
Gilroy – Nonprofit groups seeking financial assistance from Gilroy will have to focus on food, shelter and other “direct services” in their grant applications next year, or risk losing funding.

City staff are now refining new criteria for which types of programs will qualify for the roughly $100,000 in federal and local funds officials dole out annually. City Council members expect to sign off on the new criteria in time for the December request for grant proposals.

The retooling of grant criteria comes after an Oct. 17 council study session, scheduled to address concerns by some officials that grant dollars are not being used as intended.

“There should be a hierarchy of things that should be done, and hunger is number one because it happens every day,” Councilmen Bob Dillon said. “Then you can work on shelter and keeping families together.”

The city’s current grant process includes a ranking system reflecting those three overarching categories of need, but Dillon maintains that some programs with little or no relation to those areas are “slipping through the backdoor.”

During the last round of grant approvals in April, when council signed off on $125,872 in grants for 10 groups, Dillon and fellow councilman Russ Valiquette questioned: a $29,412 grant for tenant-landlord counseling services; a $5,000 grant to reduce transportation costs for elderly and disabled people; and a $4,320 grant for a video that helps disabled people locate housing appropriate to their needs.

The latter two programs likely would not qualify for funding under Dillon’s vision for new grant criteria. The tenant-landlord counseling services, provided by Project Sentinel, a San Jose-based provider of housing assistance, would no longer qualify for federal grant dollars. Instead, the group would have to “compete” against other nonprofit providers of housing assistance for money from the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

Currently, Project Sentinel is the only group providing Gilroy with fair-housing services mandated by the federal government. Last year, the city also gave the group $18,000 to meet the fair-housing requirement. In the absence of competitors, it appears that portion of the group’s funding will remain safe. It remained unclear at press time, however, if the group’s funding for tenant-landlord counseling could vanish under the reworked grant criteria. Project Sentinel’s executive director could not be reached, but threatened earlier in the year to leave Gilroy if the group’s funding dried up.

Dina Campeau, director of a nonprofit consortium called the South County Collaborative, said city leaders should think hard before restricting the use of grant dollars. She pointed out that the local chapter of the American Red Cross and five other nonprofit groups have departed the city in the last 18 months.

She said tenant-landlord counseling, for instance, may not constitute a “direct service” but nevertheless fulfills a vital need.

“It’s not providing shelter, but it’s preventing people from going into the shelter;” Campeau said. “Once a family gets to the point of needing shelter, it’s … a much higher cost and puts the family at greater risk than if they had been able to stay in their home. The city does a great service if they support that kind of prevention work.”

Mayor Al Pinheiro said he would support focusing grant dollars on direct services, but would also like to see some percentage of monies set aside for preventive services such as those provided by Project Sentinel.

“I certainly don’t have a problem with tenant-landlord counseling,” he said. “A lot of times that keeps somebody from becoming homeless and you don’t have to do that second step.”

Council members plan to sign off on the new grant criteria before December, when the city mails out requests for grant proposals. Final grant applications are due by late January.

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