The Homer City Council decided not to provide funding to a faith-based substance abuse residential treatment center. Set Free Alaska hoped to receive nearly $200,000 from the city to help it launch a 16-bed men’s facility later this year, but some council members say the city needs to craft a policy before it provides large amounts of funding to nonprofits.
The city council has been grappling with the question of whether it can give $175,000 it received from the state to Set Free to start a residential treatment center because it’s a private, faith-based nonprofit. But on Monday, the council strayed from that issue and dealt with a new question: would the city be setting a precedent for other nonprofits to ask the city for funding?
Council member Rachel Lord supports Set Free coming to Homer, but she said the city would set such a precedent if it financially supported Set Free’s treatment center.
“There are, I believe, literally no end to that list of needs, and we hear about those needs regularly and we will continue to hear about those needs,” she said.
Lord is in favor of the city supporting community-based projects and nonprofits, but she said the council should craft a policy that will determine when and how the city can provide funding.
“If we want to consider some way that we actually look at our policy and change our policy such that we are addressing social needs, that we are addressing nonprofit needs on a case-by-case basis that we're doing that as part of our budget process, that we're allocating some portion of money, slush fund, for the council to be able to be responsive in a small town way,” she said. “That's something.”
Mayor Ken Castner, who usually refrains from weighing in on policy issues, echoed Lord, imploring the council to be deliberate in how it delegates funds.
“To take the plunge into social services is a big gulp and it's something that we have to be very strategic about and maybe this was our invitation to examine that big gulp,” he said.
But council member Heath Smith doesn’t believe that funding the treatment center would obligate the city to financially support other social services and projects.
“I am opposed to this idea of a policy as was mentioned that the council have a slush fund, that we can just throw that around—little things that come around,” he said. “I don't view this as that kind of move.”
He adds that this money is a drop in the bucket.
“It's worth every dime,” he said. “You ask anybody, any family, any individual that has gone through treatment and has been successful. (Ask anyone who's) lost a loved one and what they were willing to spend in order to save them and you're going to complain over $175,000.”
The ordinance would also have given $10,000 to the Homer Foundation to fund projects related to addiction prevention and treatment. Council members Smith, Shelly Erickson and Tom Stroozas all voted in favor of the move. Lord and Caroline Venuti voted against the measure. However, council member Donna Aderhold was absent, meaning the ordinance failed because it didn’t receive the four votes required to pass.
Set Free Executive Director Philip Licht says the state awarded the program a $1.5 million grant to help launch the treatment center in Homer. He says the council’s decision to not give the program funding makes the possibility of the project questionable.
“However, we are going to do our best in the next months to raise that money with whatever means that we can,” he said. “We'll be inviting the community to join us in that and hopefully in that effort, we will be able to raise the funding needed to get the program off the ground.”
Licht says he is hoping to raise the roughly $175,000 Set Free needs by August. He says if the nonprofit is unable to raise those funds on its own, it will need to give the $1.5 million it received from the state back.