As the economy turns down…the Army turns it up

Western territorial divisions respond to New Frontier economic survey.

by Karen Gleason –

The Salvation Army is responding to increased numbers of petitioners—many of them requesting assistance for the first time. Resources—including food, gas, housing and other necessities—are thin, however, and the Army is developing new and creative means to meet people’s needs and to continue “doing the most good.”

In a recent survey of the Western Territory, New Frontier queried the divisions on the impact of the economic downturn on the Army’s services and programs, including worship attendance.

In his comments, Major David Clitheroe, Southwest divisional social services director, cautioned that statistics can be misleading since they do not reflect the community’s need but instead show “our staff’s capability to respond to requests for help.” While most of the responses indicate general trends, some do include percentages. The Southwest Division noted that since social service staff is not increasing—and in many cases is decreasing—many requests for service are not being recorded.

Most divisions stated that the need this year is much greater than last year. As Del Oro Divisional Commander Major Doug Riley notes, “Trying to do more good with less financial flexibility has been a challenge.” A notable exception is Alaska, which has not yet experienced the difficulties affecting the lower 48 states. Although the Army in Alaska does expect cuts to their government contracts, new monies they have raised so far this year will meet the shortfall.

The Intermountain Division response summed up the situation: “The economic hard times have fallen on everyone, including non-profits. TSA is no exception and budgets have been cut in order to meet the urgent material needs. The economic situation will provide The Salvation Army with a great opportunity to show the love of Christ as we meet basic human needs in his name.”

The following questions were asked of the 10 Western divisions. Their responses are highlighted here.

1) Has there been an increased demand for Army services such as food, shelter, clothing, utility support, etc.?
Nine divisions answered a resounding “yes” to this question; again the exception is Alaska, which has not seen an increase in job layoffs. The increased demand is for all services—food, rental/mortgage assistance, shelter, and utility assistance—with some divisions reporting a 50 percent increase in clients at food banks. Golden State reported that requests to the Army from other service providers have doubled, and likewise the Army’s requests to others—as all service providers find their resources shrinking.

Many locations mentioned increased requests for energy assistance (heating bills), with fewer resources since REACH allocations have decreased. REACH is a one-time energy-assistance program sponsored by PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) and administered through The Salvation Army from 170 offices in northern and central California. Sierra del Mar also recorded an increase in demand for utility assistance, especially water bills. Bakersfield, Calif. to date has had to turn away 269 families for energy and/or housing due to lack of funds. In Turlock, Calif., families have requested candles because they have no electricity and no hope of paying the bill even if assisted. These families received food that could be served cold. One family in Turlock asked for ideas on how to get heat in their house; they had to cook outside. Unable to give direct help, the Army did provide referrals.

At one location in the Northwest (one of the divisions noting a 50 percent increase at some food banks), the Army sent out a plea to the community when faced with an empty food pantry freezer. Stacy Howard, Northwest divisional community relations director, said: “People responded generously and it was quickly filled…then emptied again as we served clients.” Southern California noted that in locations usually associated with the middle class such as Glendale and Santa Monica, food pantries were operating at 50 percent or below capacity. Clients now include those who formerly gave donations. The Southwest Division reported that its corps are working with local food banks to address the increasing food requests; community support is good.

In the Northwest, shelters have been full for more than a year. In Del Oro, shelters in Oakland and Sacramento have long waiting lists. The Army in Pueblo, Colo. opened an emergency shelter to serve the increased number of homeless in the community. Because of the increase in requests for emergency shelter, Modesto, Calif., has had to turn away 10-12 people per night, unserved.

Many people are seeking jobs; this type of assistance is becoming increasingly difficult. Arizona has recorded the second highest number of job losses in the nation. People also come in for transportation (bus passes) to job interviews and for appropriate clothing for job seeking.

With reduced local and state government assistance—both directly to clients and through other agencies—the demand on private charities, like The Salvation Army, is growing. Increasingly the Army is turning to the community and to collaborations with other churches and organizations to meet the needs.

2) Have social service offices been impacted to a greater degree? Are they seeing a different type of client recently?

With dwindling funds available in government contracts, the social service offices are at a disadvantage as they struggle to meet increasing needs. Many offices have consolidated programs or cut back on staffing or hours, attempting to meet the needs of more clients with fewer employees. In Southern California, the transitional living programs and rehabilitation programs continue to serve the same amount of clients with a reduced staff; meanwhile, the emergency shelter has experienced an increase in families needing temporary shelter.

The Army in Hawaii, where about half of the budget comes from government contracts, is feeling the pinch from cuts in funding. One recent loss was $500,000 from the Department of Energy for the Family Treatment Services program. This cut, and more like it, will cause problems in delivering current levels of service.

Major Donald Hostetler, Cascade divisional commander, summed up the territory’s situation: “There are increased calls to our social services offices, mostly from people who are unfamiliar with receiving assistance. They seem to want information and to be exploring options of how to deal with a gap in unemployment compensation and the process for receiving assistance. They want to know what will happen if they show up at our doors. It’s a different type of client, one that is not adept at using the network of available social services; they are new to the system in general.”

These new clients, who have not been in the “system” before, do not have issues with alcohol and drugs. As Del Oro noted, “They include those who once donated monetarily to the programs they now need to utilize.” They are from segments of the population once immune to economic problems. In the Southwest, said Clitheroe, these categories include construction workers and builders, real estate professionals, self-employed and car salesmen. Also needing assistance are restaurant workers, grocery store employees and bank employees.

The Army in Riverside, Calif., which has a 10.1% unemployment rate, is seeing many new people who used to be able to pay their bills and buy food. The mayor there recently said that their foreclosure rate is second in the nation, behind Detroit.

Golden State, along with other divisions, is seeing more families with children and more seniors. People from higher earning brackets are coming in. In the lower economic population, homelessness is increasing, with more homeless on the streets.

The Intermountain Division noted that rent assistance is running out by the middle of the month.

Another challenge that comes with the growing number of clients is the ability to provide continuing assistance. “Due to the volume of need, it is difficult to invest as much time in providing more in-depth help” (Intermountain).

3) Has there been any change in donor activity—increase or decrease?

Although donor activity varies somewhat by location, generally the divisions report that donor activity is not decreasing, but increasing as people respond to the needs in their community. Most divisions record an increase in the number of gifts, with a decrease in the amount of the gift, especially in the major gifts area. Donations for specific needs are up, and fundraising campaigns with community involvement have been successful.

The Sierra del Mar Division, currently carrying a capital campaign, noticed that many donors who previously donated to both a capital campaign and an annual gift now are able to choose only one, not both.

Alaska, which is expecting cuts in government funding of approximately $500,000, reports increased proceeds from the season of giving as well as growing income from the Adult Rehabilitation Program. With the money it has raised, the division expects to meet the government cuts.

One example of giving for a specific need is the increase in donations for San Francisco’s Railton Place, which helps aged-out foster youth with housing and developing skills for independent living.

While it is uncertain what donations the Army will receive in 2009, it does appear that “overall our donors are still interested in what’s happening; in many instances even more than ever before” (Del Oro).

4) Have advisory boards explored this topic and made some recommendations?

The divisions are taking a strong interest in how their advisory boards can help the Army weather the economic storm. Where the boards are active, finance is the main focus.
One sad twist is that some boards have members who are being hit hard by the recession—primarily realtors; they may find themselves in need of assistance.

So far, as the Cascade Division reported, most boards are being reactive instead of proactive, often looking to the Army officer for guidance and asking staff at the corps similar questions to those presented here.

This reactionary activity is beneficial. In Del Oro, for example, the Red Bluff advisory board is planning a fundraiser cycling event for the spring, to help with the current food shortage at the corps. To deal with the cut in available funds, the Stockton advisory board lowered the maximum income supplement REACH applicants could receive; thereby increasing the number of applicants they can help.

In Colorado Springs, the board is asking large churches to take at least one offering this year for The Salvation Army in a campaign called “Connecting our local churches to their Jerusalem.”

Some advisory boards are taking proactive steps. In the Southwest Division, the finance committee of the advisory board is reviewing all programs (one per month), applying their business expertise to cut costs. To date, this has resulted in a proposal to close one program (costly on a per unit basis), the redirecting of resources to Army units instead of to non-Army programs, more effective use of staff and reduction of communication expenses. Clitheroe noted that this response of the division to the current economy has been the “most effective and productive measure so far.”

The Modesto, Calif. board has set monthly development committee meeting to proactively set strategy for better fundraising. A committee is also working to renew endowment pledges one year early to make certain that they are ready when the current pledges are completed.

Sierra del Mar’s Metro board has a number of financial and bank personnel who are interested in developing a strategy to carry them through the next few years.

Clearly, the Army’s advisory boards can yield many dynamic solutions to some of the current economic problems; it’s up to the divisions and the corps to tap this resource.

5) Have any corps officers noticed any change in those attending services, with new people attending as a result of stressful times?

While many corps report a slight increase in the number of people attending services, most note that they are unable to attribute this to the current economy.

In the Sierra del Mar Division, one corps has noticed a return of some people who used to attend services. “They fell away for one reason or another and now are back because the corps is the only place of hope in their time of crisis.” Another corps in the division reports that some “who were formerly on the fringes of our ministry are becoming increasingly sensitive to spiritual things.”

Colorado Springs mentioned that more people are coming by requesting prayer in addition to help with immediate needs; their weekly attendance has also slightly increased.

6) Have any programs or corps developed emotional support programs for people and families undergoing severe economic trauma?

Many corps have not started anything new, having always provided counseling and groups offering support.

In the Golden State Division, the Merced Corps has posted a flyer offering counseling. The Monterey Corps wrote: “We realize that we are not able to help everyone who walks through the door or calls on the phone, but we do not turn them away without spending some time talking with them and making whatever referrals we can.”

Several corps are collaborating with other agencies to help clients. The San Francisco Central Meal Kitchen has established a stronger relationship with the CHEFS program (an Episcopal Community program), which helps homeless persons learn how to work in the kitchen. The Army offers internships to some of these students, providing both kitchen training and emotional support.

The El Centro, Calif., corps built a chapel into its thrift store, where they hold a weekly service at noon followed by a meal. An average of 75-100 people attend; they are social service clients, store customers, employees and homeless.

To deal with practical matters, several Metro Denver (Colo.) corps have initiated financial management (budgeting) programs. South Valley has developed a Benevolence Committee for people having a monetary or other type of emergency. In another example of creative collaboration, South Valley also has a committee that partners with the Denver Rescue Mission to help the Denver Homeless Initiative; the congregation has raised $2,400 to assist two homeless families.

The Intermountain Division stressed the importance of the time given to each client: “As our economy continues to decline, staff are spending more and more time with each client, exploring every option to help them recover from their hardships. Many clients need help just trying to remain stable.”

A corps in the Sierra del Mar has opened a 24-7 prayer room that the community is coming to as a place of hope.

As Clitheroe (Southwest) observed: “Just taking time to listen to people is greatly appreciated and when assistance is offered it is very common for people to cry with relief.” The Intermountain Division stated: “As our economy continues to decline, staff are spending more and more time with each client, exploring every option to help them recover from their hardships. Many clients need help just trying to remain stable.”

Clearly, the establishment of new services or programs providing emotional support is an area of opportunity for The Salvation Army—such services could lead many people to the Lord, who is the only true source of hope in troubled times.

Several divisions provided information on the creative means—including programs, services, fundraisers and collaborations with other agencies—they have devised to assist people in need. Some of these will be explored in future issues of New Frontier.

Clitheroe set down some practical steps to follow during the economic crisis:
A) Do the best we can to maintain or expand our emergency services.
B) Work with others (coalitions, agencies, churches, etc.) to seek additional resources from any and all available sources.
C) Refer as many as possible to existing government (federal, state and local) programs, especially income maintenance program.
D) Do whatever we can to improve the systems for processing those needing help.

As Salvation Army units struggle to deal with increasing needs, keeping the Army vision and mission in mind is vital: To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination. The San Francisco Harbor Light Center wrote: “Anything that we can do to help foster the human needs, spirit, intellect and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. This corps/program has this vision and continues against all odds. Life is for service.”

The Intermountain noted: “It appears that giving in the community has increased to the ‘trusted brand’ of The Salvation Army…By giving to The Salvation Army donors acknowledge their trust and confidence in money well spent for those in need.”

It is clear that our supporters, and those in need, depend on The Salvation Army as an organization that will survive these hard times—we have done so before.

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