Athens ‘Good Works’ Director Comments On Refusing State Grant Money

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When people come to the Timothy House, they are in crisis, says Keith Wasserman. They shouldn't be forced in that moment to provide personal information to be uploaded on the Homeless Management Information System database.

Wasserman, founder and executive director of Good Works, Inc., said that's what the Ohio Development Services now expects, and that's why he has turned down a grant from the ODSA offered at the end of last year.

The ODSA offered Good Works $44,800 for its 2014 Emergency Shelter Grant, a one-year grant to go toward the operation of Timothy House. Timothy is the only emergency shelter in the region, serving people from several southeastern Ohio counties. This was a lesser amount than last year’s grant, which was closer to $64,000.

Good Works didn’t meet all the criteria to receive the same amount of funding from previous years, according to Penny Martin, a spokeswoman for the ODSA. In a letter that Wasserman wrote to the ODSA recently, he states that those criteria refer to the data — or lack thereof— that he provided to HMIS. Wasserman said in the letter that the data was lacking because he "honored (the homeless') right to say no… would not violate their right by uploading their personal information as 'anonymous' against their consent."

Martin said that 30 percent of ODSA funding is based on submission of HMIS data, which accounts for the 30 percent drop in offered funding. In other words, Good Works was still eligible for around 70 percent of the previous grant amount.

Martin added that the ODSA can't speak to future grant applications from Good Works as they are individually-reviewed. But while data collection has been part of the program since 2003, this is the first time that the grantees have been evaluated based on their data collection. Seventy percent of the grant is formula-based and 30 percent is competitively evaluated, Martin said, which is where the reduction in funding came in.

"It helps us provide accountability for the taxpayer dollars," Martin stated.

But Wasserman felt it was a moral and ethical matter; he wrote in the letter that the organization was "forced to not receive this grant because of the ethical violations this poses for Good Works."

Wasserman also stated in the letter that he understood from a meeting with ODSA representatives, that ODSA no longer allows a category of people seeking emergency shelter to decline being entered into the HMIS database. They are only allowed to be entered as: consenting, which presumes their signature, or anonymous, with or without their verbal or written consent, his letter states.

Wasserman went on to say it is his understanding that the law allows most data elements in the HMIS system to include a 'don't know' or 'refused' response category, and these are considered valid responses if the client refuses or doesn't know the answer. He said that Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) wording states that it is not their intention to deny anyone services if they refuse or are unable to supply the information.

He added that he has been asked why Good Works hasn't asked the Coalition on Homelessness & Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) to represent these issues and concerns, given that it is considered a primary advocate.

"I have chosen not to ask for their help because they receive funds from ODSA to carry out and enforce the HMIS rules for shelters in Ohio," Wasserman noted, "And our experience with COHHIO has been very disappointing with regard how they have instructed us to address HMIS with our clients."

The fact that Good Works did not accept the grant means that Good Works' annual fundraising walk this past Saturday in Athens was even more important than usual.

Wasserman quoted a preliminary figure of $42,000 in funds raised, with more expected. The goal of this year’s walk was $60,000, which represents about a third of the cost of running Timothy House. Wasserman said he probably won't have a final figure on funds raised for a few more weeks.

Wasserman has requested an exemption be heard in a public hearing in 2014, "if necessary by the Governor of the State of Ohio, John Kasich and by the Secretary of HUD, Shaun Donovan. We are requesting a formal answer to our request."