Whacking the city’s contribution to Cornerstone Rescue Mission by 41 percent – especially atop the 30 percent city funding reduction of last year – would lead to regrets and recriminations.
Why would we further cut what is essentially the de facto West River branch of the State Hospital at Yankton? Where else can some people with mental illnesses go when the state won’t provide adequate funding?
The struggle to provide mental health services for the Black Hills continues. Now we want to cripple the organization that efficiently prevents the most vulnerable from being forced onto the streets? Wouldn’t this complicate law enforcement? Increase jail needs? Is increased vagrancy a tolerable byproduct of city policies? Half of the city’s budget already goes to fund law enforcement and emergency services. Cornerstone supports these efforts. Why hurt them via the backdoor?
A statewide census showed that South Dakota had 1,159 homeless on Jan. 23, including 300 in Rapid City, of whom 51 were veterans and 41 were children. Last year, the mission provided 35,000 bed nights and served more than 182,000 meals.
If Cornerstone didn’t exist, we’d have to create it, and it would cost a lot more than what the city gets for a $170,000 annual supplement. Cutting $70,000 from that contribution would lead to the loss of three staff downtown. Could Rapid City employ three workers for that amount? Could the city serve three daily meals for less than $9 per person per day, relying heavily on volunteers and food donations to make it work?
Even a one-time cut of this magnitude would muddle the mission’s planning and stability. Staff morale would fall. Experienced people would depart. Harm would ripple for years.
Sure, the city faces tough times and tough budget choices. Economic growth has stalled, the farm economy struggles, and sales tax income has stumbled. But doesn’t that underscore the foolhardiness of cutting funds to an organization that efficiently serves those hit hardest?
The origin of the budget cut proposal is understandable. Some funding reductions became inevitable once the City Council narrowly rejected Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender’s plan to restructure building permit fees. Something must plug the resulting $203,000 hole in the city’s draft 2019 budget.
And until 2017, the city provided no direct funding to Cornerstone, which competed with other nonprofits for federal Community Development Block Grant dollars administered by the city. With Cornerstone in danger of closing in 2016, Rapid City stepped in with $250,000 to keep it going. To some, it probably now appears the city continues to be generous with a lesser contribution. It’s a justification that doesn’t hold up once you realize who would own the problems if Cornerstone fails.
Lysa Allison, executive director of Cornerstone Rescue Mission, has reacted to Allender’s proposal with disappointment but understanding. In truth, Cornerstone cut its budget to the bone during the struggles of 2016. Further cuts now would mean more homeless on the streets.
As Allison noted Thursday in a letter to the Council: “We have become the refuge for individuals that other agencies cannot work with or place in housing and routinely come from prisons, jails, hospitals, mental health facilities, etc. We take them in because no one else will and/or they have nowhere else to go.”
People grew outraged when Regional Health moved to turn away some with mental illness. Should citizens be less angry when city actions carry the same result?
The Council may take up Allender’s proposed cuts when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall. We hope the mayor and Council will spread the pain among more departments, so the brunt of balancing the city budget doesn’t fall on the backs of homeless veterans, children, the mentally ill, and those down on their luck.
Allender’s proposal to cut $50,000 from the fire department budget, for instance, represents a reduction of just .4 percent to its budget. That could be accommodated by delays in equipment purchases. A proposed 7 percent cut to Business Development Services will hurt, but it won’t cause the damage targeted for Cornerstone.
Some also have pitted Cornerstone cuts against a much smaller hit planned for the Humane Society of the Black Hills. It’s not a fair comparison. The humane society provides animal control services under a city contract.
Budget cuts aren’t easy, but throwing Cornerstone under the bus isn’t wise. It would lead to more and costlier problems down the road.