Tarrant County's only provider of emergency shelter to victims of domestic violence is in jeopardy of losing $75,000 in federal funding funneled to the agency through the city of Fort Worth because of "performance issues."
For the first time, the city's Community Development Council is recommending that SafeHaven of Tarrant County not be awarded an Emergency Solutions Grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development for 2018-19.
The recommendation comes, in part, because the agency has not spent all of that grant money in the past three years and isn't where it should be on spending this year's grant, according to a recent email to the City Council.
HUD will award the city $12 million in Community Development Block Grants, of which about $543,500 will go to three agencies for emergency sheltering. Those Emergency Solutions Grants have strict expenditure requirements, Aubrey Thagard, director of Fort Worth's Neighborhood Services Department, which oversees grant compliance, told the council.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
So far this year, SafeHaven has spent 45 percent of its grant, when it should be at 58 percent, Thagard said. But, in the last three years, SafeHaven has not spent $10,822, which had to be reprogrammed, he said.
"Reprogramming of funds is a complicated and costly process," Thagard said. "Unfortunately, this is a consistent pattern."
In addition, SafeHaven was dinged because it has not kept up with filing HUD-required contractor wage reports on a one-time $150,000 grant from 2016 to make accessibility improvements to two shelter bathrooms, and some audits show the agency hasn't properly documented where some of its money is being spent.
City officials said the recommendation not to support the grant to SafeHaven is not a reflection of the agency or the clients they service, but is administrative in nature.
"The city has worked with SafeHaven for many years and knows them to be an extremely strong organization," Thagard said.
Kathryn Jacob, SafeHaven's president and CEO, refutes the findings and in a June 4 letter to the Community Development Council expressed concern, saying they needed to "dive deeper into the scoring process."
Jacob said all the audit findings have been resolved and that SafeHaven has seen a 2 percent increase from other funding sources and believed that all the money from Fort Worth is properly spent.
"It is hard to imagine a city such as Fort Worth choosing not to support the only shelter in the city serving this extremely vulnerable population," Jacob wrote. In an interview later, she said, "We have gotten that funding for many years. I have no doubt the city will do the right thing here. I'm certain it will get sorted out."
Created in 2006 in a merger of the Women's Shelter and Women's Haven, SafeHaven operates on a $9 million annual budget. It also receives Emergency Solutions Grants from Tarrant County and the state.
The city's Neighborhood Services Department compiles the annual plan and a five-year plan for housing and community programs funded with federal money. The plans are vetted by the council-appointed Community Development Council. Applicants are recommended and chosen for funding based on a point system.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the plans Aug. 7, but will likely now hear additional information at its June 26 work session.
This recent funding issue came to light this past week when the City Council was briefed on those funding plans. District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan said he had already received some emails regarding the possible loss of funding to SafeHaven.
"Victims for domestic violence are a high priority," Jordan said.
Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said staff will be working with SafeHaven in the coming days to try and resolve the issues. If not resolved, the city stands the risk of losing its good standing with HUD, which can jeopardize future funding, he said.
"It's regrettable that it ever reached this stage," Costa said. "I think it's an issue that can be resolved without causing any disruption of services. Obviously, we're taking it seriously."
But, Costa said, "If one of our contractors ... fails to follow the rules, the federal government holds the city responsible. We get punished if something goes wrong. That could mean taxpayers pick up the tab and the money returned."
The $75,000 grant is the only one SafeHaven receives from Fort Worth and it supports a cook and a childcare worker in the Fort Worth shelter, Jacob said. SafeHaven also has an Arlington location.
SafeHaven served 870 victims and children in 2017 in the Fort Worth shelter, but of all their clients, 62 percent list Fort Worth as their home, Jacob said. In Fort Worth in 2017, there were 12 victims of domestic violence homicides and 16 in 2016.
The Salvation Army, Presbyterian Night Shelter and True Worth Place are slated to share in the emergency shelter funding.
Thagard said the city will work with those agencies to make sure SafeHaven clients have access to services.
"SafeHaven is certainly eligible to apply for funding during the next cycle," Thagard said.