State, county and local governments have been engaged in an uphill battle to get a handle on out-of-control budgets that threaten everything from employee positions to reduced pensions or benefits, government properties and rate hikes to basic services like water, electricity and refuse collection.

But perhaps the greatest reverberations from the economic tidal wave that has swept the nation have been felt among the various social service agencies and nonprofit organizations that serve the uninsured and lower income populations. As funding sources dry up and former donors are now availing themselves to the organizations they once supported financially, many of these providers find themselves facing expanding demand in the midst of one of the nation’s most precarious economic periods.

“Probably every single social service agency and non-profit has felt the pinch,” Jennifer Jenson, the executive director of Harvest Home, asserted. “Everything has increased, except what you (financially) bring in.”

Harvest Home is a Venice-based organization that provides shelter to homeless and pregnant women, and while its clientele has not dramatically increased, the amount of service it can provide has been affected, Jenson said.

“Instead of providing 12 therapy sessions for a client, for example, now we might have to cut those in half,” she explained.

St. Joseph Center Executive Director Dr. Va Lecia Adams says that the economic downtown has caused the Venice nonprofit to stretch its resources as funding has dipped and demand has been on a steady incline since the recession arrived in 2007.

“In my discussions with (other social service colleagues), that’s the case for most of us,” Adams said in an interview in the center.

Even in affluent Santa Monica, home to millionaires and the well-heeled, social service agencies are reporting fewer donations as the pinchers of the economic downturn continue to squeeze the budgets of non-profits and the wallets of the middle class.

Genevieve Riutort, development director of the Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica, says that her agency has also seen an upswing in new clients, and many are middle-class residents who are also first-time visitors.

“Many of them are also former volunteers and donors,” Riutort noted.

Other social service organization like the St. Joseph Center have seen some of the consequences of that phenomenon as well, with an increased demand for their food pantry services from first-time clients who previously had not solicited their services.

“Emergency services like our food pantry and the Bread and Rose Café is where we’re seeing an overwhelming increase in need,” Adams said. “And the funds are shrinking.”

Adams said local donors in Venice and Santa Monica such as Whole Foods and Ralphs have continued their donations to the food pantry, which allows St. Joseph to provide this emergency service to more of its clients.

“Since October, we are serving an average of 100 more families than we were a year before in 2008,” Adams said. “So it’s really amazing how so many of our partners have remained committed to helping us during these very difficult times.

“We really are doing more with a lot less.”

Like many other non-profits, St. Joseph has lost a portion of its funding. But the center is also the beneficiary of recent funding via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known to many as the federal economic stimulus bill passed last year.

Rep. Jane Harman, who represents Venice, commended the center for its community efforts during a prolonged economic recession.

“I am pleased that the St. Joseph Center has continued to provide and in fact, expanded its essential services and aid to some of the neediest in the community,” Harman said in a statement. “The expansion of safety net programs and the employment it has created are precisely what Congress intended when it passed the (Recovery Act).

“This funding means new staff positions at the center and more help for people in the Venice and Santa Monica areas.”

Other organizations say they have not been as hard hit with a loss of funds, but are seeing impacts in other areas. At Mar Vista-based Positive Alternative Choices Today (PACT), Chief Executive Officer Bill Ewald says his organization has been forced to lay off personnel after losing two local grants in December.

“We’re at 1998 staffing levels now,” said Ewald, whose organization mentors at-risk youngsters, primarily from Mar Vista Gardens.

The loss of money from state, county and federal governments is one of the biggest factors in service providers being forced to look for creative solutions in order to attend to as many clients as they can, and in many cases more than in past years.

“Our funding from the county’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Program Administration has gone down approximately 80 percent over the last five years,” said Anthony Smith, the executive director of New Start, an alcohol and domestic abuse treatment center in Venice.

Smith says the economic slide has forced New Start to shift its priorities as funding levels have shrunken.

“We’ve moved into other areas, such as life skills training,” he said. “But in terms of lost funding, our outreach services have been drastically cut, and that affects how we let the community know that we’re here.”

Medical care for those without insurance will also feel the brunt of the recession. The county Board of Supervisors voted on February 16th to reduce the pay rate for doctors who treat the uninsured at private hospitals from 27 to 19 percent.

Fourth District County Supervisor Don Knabe said he wished that the county was in the position not to take away the funding.

“Financing at the level to pay doctors for 24/7 lifesaving emergency care is an insult to the doctors and a further threat to the already fraying hospital emergency safety net upon which we all depend,” Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, said recently.

The pay reduction will take effect on July 1st.

When asked why she felt services for the uninsured and those from lower income backgrounds often seem like the first in line when the budget ax swings, Jenson responded, “there’s not a cohesive advocacy for our population. There’s very few people advocating for the people that we serve.”

Adams said what keeps her going during challenging times is seeing her clients determined and grateful that St. Joseph can continue to provide them with resources that could often be the only thing that keeps many clients from becoming homeless or incurring more difficult financial hardships.

“Seeing children smiling whom we have helped sustain their families and the wonderful donors that continue to support the less fortunate is very encouraging,” she said. “It really renews my hope for the future.”

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