If money dries up, specialized agencies may fold
December 8, 2003
By Susan Wood
Tribune staff writer
Pilar Cerna sits at the end of her bed in her decorated A-frame bedroom wondering what life has in store for her in the coming weeks.
Cerna, 37, is trying to get her life in order – again. A volunteer at Sierra Recovery Center, she’s come a long way. On Saturday, she’ll celebrate five months being sober.
She’s scared because she wants to keep it that way. But those who fight the cunning disease of substance abuse find it more difficult to cope when adding the stress of uncertainty at having a roof over one’s head.
For two months, Cerna has stayed in a transitional house operated by the South Lake Tahoe-based nonprofit organization that may close if funding sources continue to dry up.
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“If it wasn’t for this house, I don’t know where I’d be, and I can’t say I’d be clean and sober today,” Cerna said, adding that she’d like to have her two sons join her and her 14-year-old daughter.
The dream is in jeopardy.
Today, the South Lake Tahoe City Council will decide whether to adopt a 2003-04 budget that omits public service organizations from receiving operational money. In 2001-02, Sierra Recovery Center received $2,542 to pay for utilities. This year’s total budget, amounting to about $1.1 million, is balanced by revenue from California and Nevada grant funds, private donations and United Way, among other money sources.
Sierra Recovery Center has helped thousands of people since its formation in 1976. Executive Director Betsy Fedor estimated these homes have benefited about 200 people in the last three years.
The city isn’t alone in its lack of funds. El Dorado County has already cut out the $185,000 Sierra Recovery Center expected in this year’s budget.
Last month, the cutbacks forced Fedor to close one of four transitional houses, which resulted in the shuffling of five residents into other facilities.
The homes are used to help people get a leg up on their lives over a three- to six- month period and onto the road of a self-sufficient, sober lifestyle. Many need that half year to qualify for U.S. Housing and Urban Development programs.
Five women live at Cerna’s house
“It’s like a stepping stone here,” Fedor said.
These types of programs are funded through certain types of grants. Many of these grant applications ask if the programs are supported by local governments. Up to this point, Sierra Recovery Center has checked yes. The small gesture carries much weight with it.
“I just want to be able to say the city supports us,” Fedor said. “Everywhere you go, these grant services need city support.”
The problem in South Lake Tahoe is accentuated by the rising costs of rental housing.
Fedor fears the absence of Sierra Recovery Center housing programs may affect other areas of the community. Sometimes mothers like Cerna are forced to place their children in foster care if they’re unable to stay sober. And there are other considerations to having substance abuse programs.
“We’re saving a ton of money in the criminal justice system,” Fedor said.
-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org