By NATALIE MARTIN
Unless it finds a new source of funding, Vashon Youth & Family Services’ (VYFS) basic needs program could be at risk.
Last spring, VIVA, a program that serves islanders who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, lost an $80,000 annual grant from King County that has funded it in recent years.
While the King County Council recently designated $10,0000 in funding for VIVA in the county’s 2014 budget, the program still doesn’t have enough funding to continue the same level of financial assistance and long-term planning for islanders in need, according to VYFS director Kathleen Johnson.
Johnson said that since March, VYFS has utilized other parts of its budget to sustain VIVA, but it needs at least $30,000 more to continue the program next year, and even more in order to grow the program to meet current needs.
“The $10,000 is going to help stabilize it so at least we can keep the program running through next year,” Johnson said. “We are committed to serving … this group of vulnerable people, but we can’t serve them at the same level we could serve a year ago or a year before that,”
Since 1996, VYFS, through the VIVA program, has provided rent and utility assistance, emergency housing, food and medical vouchers as well as help with long-term planning and access to other social services to very low-income individuals and families. Last year it served more than 150 families.
Debbie Rieschl, the VIVA coordinator, said the annual grant it has received from the King County Homeless Housing Program changed its qualifications this year and also became more competitive, and Vashon ultimately lost the $80,000.
As a result, since this spring, Rieschl has been unable to commit as much of her time to the program as she has in the past and can’t provide as much to VIVA clients. At the same time, she said, need for the program’s services is growing. All other VYFS programs are seeing double-digit growth.
“I’m spread thinner,” he said. “I can’t do as much.”
Asked if the program is at risk, Rieschl said she is trying to stay positive. King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who was integral in securing the $10,000, has promised to look for more funding for VIVA, she said, and the program has begun partnering more with other nonprofits.
“I know that my phone rings off the hook, so it’s needed,” she said. “I’m a little too busy to know if it’s at risk.”
Johnson said VIVA will most likely continue, but how much it will be able to assist islanders will depend on whether it can secure more funding.
“Right now it’s about survival for the program, keeping the doors open versus being more strategic and proactive,” she said.