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Homeless Garden PRoject Seeks Investors to Keep Its Doors Open in 2003

The Homeless Garden Project, which provides job training for homeless folks in Santa Cruz County, may have to close its doors in 2003 if it doesn't get a financial "bridge" to make it until the end of the year when their funding comes in.
The Homeless Garden Project’s unique program offering job training and transitional employment to homeless men and women may have to close its doors in 2003. This non-profit organization gives homeless folks a “hand up”, not a “hand out”, helping people back on the road to self-sufficiency and reintegration into the community.

Funding for the Project, which began in 1990, is delicately balanced between foundation and government grants, donations from individuals and community support through the sale of their products. The homeless trainees in the coed Natural Bridges Farm program learn to grow organic flowers and vegetables, and the Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise trainees learn to grow flowers from seed to harvest, hang them to dry, and make dried floral wreaths, and beeswax candles. The products from both these programs are sold at a year round store located at 101 Washington Street near the wharf in Santa Cruz. In addition, the Project also had a seasonal Holiday Store downtown. Despite a great location in the former ID building, donated professional interior design, and high quality merchandise, this year’s sales were far less than anticipated. Coupled with the loss of two long-term grants totaling $100,000, this means financial crisis.

In order to balance the budget for 2003, the organization made over $86,000 in cuts. Any more cuts would mean a loss of production, and less self-generated income. Staff salaries and hours were slashed, but the most important impact is on the clients. Eight positions for trainees were eliminated for the New Year, cutting the number of homeless and formerly homeless people the Project can serve from twenty-two to fourteen.

But budget cuts and a balanced budget aren’t enough to keep the Project going. The organization will start the New Year with a $70,000 deficit and cash flow challenge. Even though it has a sound balanced budget, most income for the year isn’t expected until the fourth quarter. The Project needs a “bridge” to make it through October, or it will have to close its doors in the end of March.

This means that even the remaining fourteen trainees will be out on the streets with nowhere to turn. No more success stories like those the Project has had this year. Marilyn McGrath graduated in August from the three-year training program for women and landed a full time grounds keeper position at UC Santa Cruz. She says, “It was the knowledge I gained in the program that helped me get this job.” With the support of the Project, two other women in the program found permanent housing just in time for the holidays and the winter rains. Gaining stability, focus, and self-esteem is a big part of being able to work through the difficult life issues that many homeless folks face. In addition to connecting the trainees with free and low cost services in the area, the Project provides job-coaching and regular check-ins to help folks work towards their personal goals.

Newly promoted Executive Director, Kim Eabry, says, “It has meant a lot to me to work with and get to know each of the trainees. We’ve never had to appeal to the community in this way, because we’ve never faced such cuts that threaten the ability of the organization to continue. It would be a tragedy for the community to lose such a unique program just because the Project couldn’t get our own “hand up” when we need it. Because it would mean the end.”

Ironically, the financial crisis comes at a time when the organization is at its strongest. The committed and capable staff includes a new Executive Director, a dynamic Development Director in a newly created position, a new director for the Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise, and a new Assistant Garden Director. Providing stability are the long-term Garden Director, and the Worker Services Director who, solid as a rock, has been with the organization since just after its inception. The trainees are blossoming with the support of this team.

The Project is also working with consultants who are volunteering their expertise in business management and product development, to help it become more self-sufficient by increasing efficiency in production and generating sales through marketing.

“Good things are happening and will happen this year,” says Eabry, “but only if a few angels are able to help us with some large donations or loans.”

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