In a time of constricting budgets and economic turmoil, social service providers are forced to seek innovative methods to generate funding to maintain their service levels for the homeless and economically disadvantaged, which often include families.

The announcement on December 23rd that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority would make almost $3 million in aid available was welcome news to local service providers. The authority is an independent agency formed by the City and County of Los Angeles that manages funds for programs in Los Angeles County.

Mike Arnold, chief executive officer of the authority, said most of the money administered comes from federal grants, along with some county funding as well.

“From time to time, we are required to engage in a routine ‘reprocurement’ process, and that is what this is,” said Arnold.

The agency will be accepting requests for proposals (RFPs) for the allocation of the available funds beginning this month.

Many food banks and social service organizations reported a drop in donations in 2008, largely due to an economic downturn that has plunged the nation into a recession. For example, the Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica reported a 32 percent slide in donations last year.

Debbie Maddis, associate director at OPCC (formerly Ocean Park Community Center) in Santa Monica said that her organization would be exploring the opportunity to access these Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority funds.

“We certainly will be looking into [obtaining funding],” she said.

Bruce Rankin, who is a member of the Westside Hunger & Shelter Coalition, said that if local organizations are able to access this funding, it could translate into a welcome boost for the area’s homeless population.

“Agencies on the Westside have a reputation for working collaboratively instead of competitively,” Rankin, who is also the executive director of the Westside Food Bank, told The Argonaut.

The Westside Hunger & Shelter Coalition has a number of contracts with his agency, Arnold said.

“They would be eligible for emergency shelter services, because they are within the county,” he explained. “[Service providers] that are located within [the City of] Los Angeles would be eligible for funding from city and county funds.”

St. Joseph Center in Venice is an example of a service provider that would qualify for those funds, said Arnold.

“They are in Los Angeles and would be eligible for city and county funds,” he said.

Homelessness remains one of the social ills that many cities, including on the more affluent Westside, continue to grapple with on a consistent basis. In Santa Monica, an estimated 1,500 individuals are on the street daily. The Venice, Del Rey and Mar Vista communities of Los Angeles also have their own homeless populations, albeit much smaller than Santa Monica’s.

Step Up on Second, an organization in Santa Monica that provides help and support reintegrating into the community for chronically homeless individuals who have severe and persistent mental illness, recently began a partnership with the City of Beverly Hills to assist with its homeless population.

In December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released its 2008 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, which is an analysis of the scale of hunger and homelessness problems in a number of American cities and these cities’ efforts to address these problems.

Nineteen of the 25 cities that responded to the survey — including Santa Monica and Los Angeles — reported an increase in their homeless populations.

“At this time of significant economic downturn, the issues of hunger and homelessness in America are more prevalent than ever,” said Miami mayor and conference president Manny Diaz in a December 18th story in The Argonaut. “Cities are the front lines where these effects are first felt, which is why mayors have been proactive and have implemented local initiatives to combat hunger and homelessness in their communities to take care of our most vulnerable residents.”

State Senator Jenny Oropeza has sponsored legislation that would make it easier for caterers and individuals to donate leftover food to food banks and social service providers because she recognizes that during a time of great economic distress, low income and the homeless are drastically affected, as are the service providers who assist them.

“Sadly, too many people are struggling financially and going to bed hungry,” Oropeza said in December. “This is especially tragic during the holidays.”

Funding from the Homeless Services Authority is earmarked for its Shelter and Services Program, which is funded with over $2.5 million of city and county money. Projects such as public housing and social services for homeless individuals derive from this program, and include funding opportunities for emergency shelter programs as well.

In addition, the authority’s Families Housing Assistance Program will make $125,000 available to help homeless families obtain safe and affordable permanent housing by providing case management and monthly financial rental assistance to homeless families for up to one year, according to an authority spokesman.

The homeless authority will hold a mandatory bidders conference Wednesday, January 7th, and proposals will be accepted until January 23rd at 453 S. Spring St., 12th Floor, Los Angeles.

“If people have questions or want to learn more about the requests for proposal, they can inquire at the conference,” said Arnold.

Representatives of St. Joseph Center were not available for comment.