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Gay teen shelter closure helps span city budget gap

SF Public Press
 — Jan 27 2010 - 2:47pm

The Ark House, a faith-based shelter for black gay, lesbian and bisexual teens, may shut its doors March 1 if the Department of Health’s proposed cuts are approved.

The program’s closure, which is expected to save the city more than $400,000 a year, is one of a handful the city hopes to enact in the middle of its fiscal year to balance the budget. The projected deficit for the year starting in July is $522.2 million. The health budget is slated for a mid-year reduction of $13 million.

Advocates for the center said the most vulnerable are bearing the burden of policy makers’ budget-balancing decisions.

The city paid a private contractor more than $400,000 to fix a private drop-in facility that was later turned over to the Ark House. After a two-year lease, the shelter may have to close.

Reverend Yvette Flunder, CEO of Ark of Refuge Inc., spoke before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to ask for the funds to remain intact yesterday. About a dozen supporters sang songs on the steps of City Hall before entering the chamber and pleading their case.

Flunder told supervisors the Ark of Refuge can relocate the program to its own facilities.

According the Bay Area Reporter, the Department of Public Health assessed the property and deemed the space inadequate for the program, though it could be used as a temporary shelter. The organization said it would request a variance permit to address the health department's concern over the lack of windows, and pay for the improvements either to bring the facility up to code or build a new facility.

Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Public Health, told supervisors that scattered-site models like Ark House, typically offer more flexible, culturally sensitive support services than fixed site models. Yet Ark House was one the city couldn’t afford.

“It is very difficult to listen to this testimony and to understand that we’re going to have extremely difficult decisions to make this year with the budget,” Supervisor Bevan Dufty said at the meeting.

Katz said the department plans to relocate the six Ark House clients to Larkin Street Youth, a comprehensive residential facility. The city will save $144,000 in mid-year cuts if it closes in March, according to Katz.

The facility has a capacity for 15 residents.

The Department of Public Health also proposed a cut of $450,000 by eliminating residential substance-abuse programs, in addition to messenger positions at San Francisco General Hospital and beds in the acute psychiatric unit.