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After months of heated debate, the city’s homeless service providers voted last week to stop funding 51 employment and social service programs, beginning in 2005. The cuts are an attempt to respond to a new federal emphasis on “bricks and mortar.” Some providers, however, say they are far too drastic.

“I’m ashamed to be part of a community that says ‘New beds at any cost,’” said Gina Quattrochi, executive director of the nonprofit Bailey House, at a recent meeting of the city’s Coalition on the Continuum of Care.

The coalition, made up of providers, government reps and consumers, was established in the mid-1990s to decide how to spend New York’s share of federal homelessness funds, earmarked by the 1987 McKinney Act. The city’s award now hovers around $65 million, about $10 million of which has been used for support services such as job training, computer labs and counseling.

But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has grown increasingly reluctant to fund homeless services not directly tied to housing [see “Service Interruption,” November 2003]. In order to please the feds and still leave room for new programs, the coalition proposed a dramatic solution last year: eliminating all “services-only” contracts starting next year.

Some advocates hailed the move as the only way to avoid deeper cuts in the future, quietly pointing out that not all programs are worth saving. But the nonprofits affected were outraged, creating a deep rift in the coalition. “It’s been completely draining,” said Maureen Friar, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York, which represents 135 housing providers statewide. “We’re spending a lot of time and a lot of energy divvying up a limited pie and creating ill will based on how the decision is made.”

Last month, the coalition’s Gaps, Needs and Priorities Committee suggested a compromise: a 10 percent across-the-board cut for all McKinney fund contracts and a 50 percent reduction in services-only contracts. A secret ballot vote was held January 21. Though most voters preferred the compromise, it needed a two-thirds majority to win. The default option called for de-funding all services-only programs as of next year.

Friar, who voted for the compromise plan, says she understands the rationale for the cuts but hopes the group will now turn its focus toward obtaining more funding from Washington. “We need to be mobilizing on the federal level,” she said, “not eating each other up.”