Tri-City charities expect increase in services this year

Transitional housing, outreach to high school students who have dropped out and job assistance for former welfare clients are among services Tri-City charities are adding and expanding to try to meet increasing demands for help.

Requests for everything from food assistance to utility bill aid grew during 2010, and local agencies expect greater demand in 2011.

The Tri-Cities might be somewhat insulated from the national economy, said Beverly Weber, United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties president and CEO. But many residents still have felt the effects. Some lost jobs, and others are working fewer hours.

Part of the increased need is a lack of affordable housing and entry-level jobs in the Tri-Cities, said Andrew Porter, assistant executive director of the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission. Apartment occupancy rates continued to hover at about 99 percent.

Sina Pierret, St. Vincent de Paul Society president and food bank manager, said she doesn't see demand for help decreasing until the economy turns around and people can find jobs that pay enough to meet their basic needs.

The Pasco group's food bank is serving an average of 550 families a week, with that number spiking above 700 during the holidays.

Pierret said the society will start 2011 in good shape, although food bank donations always are needed.

The society also provides social services, such as utility bill help, to prevent power from being shut off, she said. Demand for those services also has risen, and Pierret said her group hopes to expand that aid in 2011.

United Way's Weber is seeing bright skies for 2011, at least in terms of community support. The nonprofit is in the middle of its annual fundraising campaign, which supports 39 different programs provided by 23 agencies. The campaign continues until March.

Weber said $3.6 million of the $4.7 million goal has been raised. The nonprofit raised $4.4 million for 2010 services.

"The community is just incredibly generous," Weber said.

The Tri-City Union Gospel Mission saw donations increase by about 13 percent in 2010, and received more volunteer support than ever, Porter said.

While support increased, so did need, with the number of men seeking shelter about 10 percent higher, he said. More than 100 men have sought shelter at the mission on some nights this winter.

In 2011, the mission plans to kick off a three-year campaign to expand its facilities, including a new warehouse, a new men's shelter and a new women's shelter, Porter said. The mission opened its first transitional housing program, called Seasons, in 2010.

State and federal funding cuts have affected local charities, including Goodwill Industries of the Columbia. Goodwill lost a program that provided job training to ex-offenders, said Scott Shinsato, assistant executive director. But it still provides job assistance to families on welfare and people with disabilities, he said.

Goodwill helped about 1,100 people with job assistance in 2010, slightly fewer than in 2009, Shinsato said. They hope to serve more in 2011, but are waiting to hear what the state Legislature will cut during its upcoming session.

It will start a new program in 2011 as a direct result of local support, Shinsato said.

The program will provide case management, classroom instruction and help finding a job to people who were dropped from welfare after the state enacted a 60-month limit on welfare help this month, he said.

The Boys and Girls Club of Benton & Franklin Counties also kicked off a new program in 2010 called Fast Forward. It aims to get youths 16 to 21 who have dropped out back into school so they can get their high school diploma, said Brian Fortney, vice president of communications and resource development.

The Mid-Columbia Salvation Army's recent kettle campaign fundraiser raised $22,000 less than in 2009.

Corps Officer Maj. David Sholin said the 2010 total was $138,000 compared with $160,000 in 2009. The 2010 goal was $170,000.

That means the charity will need to cut about $22,000 from its $1.5 million budget, Sholin said.

Tri-Citians did donate enough toys to give all 2,500 children in the Angel Tree program a gift, with some left over for the rest of the year, he said.

Charities hope community support will keep up with whatever increase in demand 2011 brings. So far, many say it has.

"We've been more than blessed," said St. Vincent de Paul Society's Pierret.

Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com