RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
There's an emergency meeting in Washington, D.C., today called Nonprofit 911. It's for hundreds of charities, businesses, and government officials in the area. The groups say the recession is making it harder to help people in need. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER: SERVE is a nonprofit group in Manassas, Virginia, that provides emergency housing and food. Like many charities, it's seen a lot more people at its door these days looking for help. Its homeless shelter can't keep up with demand, and those who do get to stay are more desperate. Not long ago the shelter saw about 15 children a month. In September there were 58 - children such as two-and-a-half-year-old Tristan, an impish redhead, who's been here with his mother for three weeks now.
HEATHER BUECHLING: Stay here, please. Just take him in the playroom. That's where he wants to go. Go out, and I'll be out in a minute.
FESSLER: Heather Buechling says she's here because she has nowhere else to go.
BUECHLING: My husband just went to jail, so - and I wasn't working, so I didn't have any place to stay, so...
FESSLER: She has been trying to find work...
BUECHLING: Which is not easy right now, these days, so. And there's not too much within walking distance. And getting him to daycare and then getting to a job is just, it's hard.
FESSLER: Especially because she doesn't have a car. Tonight there's fried eggs, bacon, hash browns, and salad for dinner at the shelter. The food comes from SERVE's nearby pantry. It, too, is seeing bigger crowds than it used to. Cheri Villa, president and CEO, says they're also seeing a whole new kind of client.
CHERI VILLA: They're teachers, they're transportation workers, they're hospitality workers. They are folks who have found themselves falling between the cracks and not having the means to pick themselves up and move forward.
FESSLER: And you probably know what's coming next. Yes, she says, donations are also down. But there's even more to this story. Across the country, nonprofits are also having a harder time getting help from banks to make ends meet.
VILLA: Lines of credit are very hard to come by. You know, you have to have collateral. And if you have a piece of property that's attached to the real estate market...
FESSLER: It's probably not worth what it used to be, she says. Villa realizes that it's the same downward spiral affecting lots of people.
VILLA: Talking to the banks is - we've tried a number of times in a number of ways, and it's really hard because they're just really not talking to us right now.
FESSLER: And there's even more. Like many nonprofits, SERVE gets money from local government to help provide social services. And those payments are also threatened.
MELISSA PEACOR: Of course we're dealing with the economic downturn that's facing our county, our region, our state, and our nation. So we're facing what everyone is facing.
FESSLER: Melissa Peacor is assistant county executive in Prince William County, where SERVE is located. She says 5,000 county homes went into foreclosure this year, driving down property values throughout the county. That's also meant a drop in tax revenues and an $85 million hole in the county budget. Peacor says cuts and payments to nonprofits are inevitable, but not in every case, she adds, especially when it involves crucial services.
PEACOR: We're also looking at can they do it less expensively than we do? And I think you're going to see some examples in this budget where we actually stop providing the service and actually give more money to the nonprofits so they can do it for us.
FESSLER: That would be welcome news indeed. But charities are also worried about something else being discussed here and in other cash-strapped communities. Prince William is rethinking the property tax exemption it gives nonprofits, a tax break that costs the county lots of potential revenue. This has nonprofits really nervous and is one of the many dark clouds on the horizon that's led to things such as today's emergency summit in Washington. Terri Freeman is president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, one of the sponsors. She says there just isn't enough money to go around.
TERRI FREEMAN: I think it is inevitable that there will be nonprofit organizations that will go out of business, that will join hands with other nonprofit organizations, that may scale back their offerings and be more specific in what they provide.
FESSLER: She says some charitable groups might just have to pool their expenses for things such as accounting and human resources. Freeman thinks the important thing is that nonprofits, businesses, and government leaders talk with each other and try to figure out the best way to get through the crisis together and to come up with some innovative ideas so those suffering the most will be hurt the least. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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