The C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Family Emergency Shelter is at or near capacity most of the time, but as of March 31 it will be empty.

A cut in Community Services Block Grant funding has resulted in the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program making changes to its C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Family Emergency Shelter program in Pittsburg in preparation for the closing of the shelter at the end of March.

"We have no choice but to begin preparations for closing the shelter," said SEK-CAP Executive Director Steve Lohr in a press release. "We continue to work with the families to find permanent housing, and we must provide our employees with adequate notice that their jobs will end."

Becky Gray is the director of research, planning and grants development at SEK-CAP and said the program has relied on an annual allocation from the Community Services Block Grant, which is administered by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation in Topeka.

"Our shortfall every year is about $190,000, and that's what we use the block grant funding for," Gray said. "We can’t spend the money if it’s not allocated."

This means that the shelter will not be able to house any new residents, current residents will need to be out by March 31 and staff also will have time to seek other employment.

"What we’re doing is not taking any new residents," Gray said. "If a family is presenting for shelter, we are trying to link them with other shelters around the region."

"We’re also working in our rapid rehousing program to see if we’re able to put people into houses immediately," she continued. "Those funds are limited, but at least they’re there. Within the shelter, families that are currently there, we’re just ramping up finding a house. We’re trying to work directly with landlords and explain the situation of why they might be moving out quickly."

Lohr said the change in funding, with part of the funds traditionally directed to Southeast Kansas being reallocated toward services in other parts of the state, is the entire reason for the shelter closing.

"KHRC's plan to cut the funding and the block grant in half is THE reason," Lohr said in an interview, adding that without that decision the shelter operations would have proceeded as normal. "This one is especially frustrating because it didn’t have to happen."

He said he has been working on appeals processes, but that timeline is indefinite.

"There’s an ongoing federal review of the situation," Lohr said. "That’s our primary hope at this point, that the Office of Community Services would say, ‘Nuh uh.’ Our hope is that they say as legislation describes that they cannot reduce SEK-CAP’s funding as proposed."

However, Lohr said that isn’t a foregone conclusion.

"Despite these best efforts, the primary funding for shelter personnel ends on March 31, 2014," states the press release. "The shelter will close on that date, and SEK-CAP will spend several weeks cleaning and refurbishing the building."

"We have to operate under the assumption that we won’t get the money," he said, adding that the block grant funding will run out at the end of March. "I couldn’t pay personnel at the shelter beyond that."

He said it was only fair to give the employees adequate notice and to have enough time to find homes for the families housed at the shelter.

"Then we’re going to get everything in the building ready for cleaning, painting or refurbishing," Lohr said.

Gray said that the facility is a nice shelter and in a great location, and she anticipates seeing it used again, although potentially not under the same model.

"The problem of people experiencing homelessness is a local problem," Gray said. "68 percent of shelter residents for the past three years have been from Crawford and Cherokee counties."

Including Labette, Bourbon, Allen and Neosho counties, that number goes up to 76 percent of homeless families who have stayed at the shelter are from the local region.

"We have a good facility," Gray said. "It’s clearly a local problem and I think that our community cares, therefore we’re going to continue conversations even after those doors are closed about how we’re going to be able to impact change as a community."

Other models that could be explored include a housing first model in which the family is provided a place to live and then the other services are brought to that location, or a day-only shelter or night-only shelter.

Lohr also noted that there may be opportunities for volunteers or other groups to come in and help with the operation.

In a press release issued by SEK-CAP, officials said the organization has been engaging with the entire community in conversations about how to operate the shelter without CSBG funding, and groups including concerned citizens, the university community and the ministerial alliances are participating in that discussion.

"Everything we can do we’re going to do," Lohr said.

In the meantime, SEK-CAP has requested that all non-monetary donations be directed to other organizations. Financial donations will continue to be accepted and used to provide ongoing homeless services.