Ever since its founding in 1995, The I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless has relied on some funding from the City of Jacksonville to fulfill its mission of fighting homelessness in Northeast Florida. Over time, the share of the city’s contribution to the overall budget of the center has gradually declined. In 2009 the shelter faced the potential total loss of this public contribution as the city council and mayor sought to reduce the city budget in response to the deepening economic crisis, in part by proposing to eliminate all public service grants, the kind of grants through which the Sulzbacher Center gets its city funding. This scenario was avoided and the center did receive $600,000 dollars that year from the city, which at 11% of the total center budget represented the smallest share the city had ever taken in the center’s support. The full scale of City Hall’s retreat from helping fund public service charities in Jacksonville goes far beyond the Sulzbacher Center, as the city’s public service grants will total only $2.3 million in 2013, down from their high of $11 million in 2005.
This steep drop over the past several years in city funding for Jacksonville charities is unfortunately not complete. Little more than three months ago the Sulzbacher Center was informed by the city that it would be facing another large cut, this time of $580,000, in its city funding. Without this money the center could not have afforded to keep open its women’s dorm, and 80 women would eventually have had to be turned out into the street. This announcement lead to negotiations between Sulzbacher and city officials towards a compromise. A march to and protest in front of city hall was planned by the women who would lose their housing if the cuts were allowed to stand, but just as they were preparing to head out the city contacted Sulzbacher to let them know that nearly $300,000 of the funding would be returned to the center. This was enough to prevent the loss of the women’s dorm, but still presents a significant challenge for the operations of the Sulzbacher Center in the coming year.
Particularly distressing about the cuts the city has made in its support of the Sulzbacher Center is how unique and important the services provided by the center are. As the largest homeless shelter in the city, with 340 beds, and as the only federally qualified Health Care for the Homeless center in the city, serving 4000 distinct patients each year between its two locations, the Sulzbacher Center plays a vital role in lifting people out of homelessness and improving the quality of life of those struggling with homelessness in Northeast Florida. The City of Jacksonville now only provides a small fraction of the Sulzbacher Center’s funding, but even this portion is essential and ought to be maintained as it is an investment that returns enormous benefits in the lives of Jacksonville’s most vulnerable and marginalized population, its homeless.