Mountain View Voice

News - July 20, 2012

InnVision to merge with Shelter Network

by Sue Dremann

InnVision, Santa Clara County's leading homeless agency, has merged with Shelter Network of San Mateo, the two agencies announced today, July 10.

The new agency, called InnVision Shelter Network, will become one of the largest transitional shelter-and-housing providers in the state with a $16 million annual cash budget. It will help more than 20,000 homeless families and individuals at more than 20 sites throughout Silicon Valley and the Midpeninsula, the organizations said.

The merger marks a trend since the economic recession of 2008 for nonprofit organizations to reassess their roles and to forge new partnerships and collaborations in order to survive. Donations plummeted after the economic crisis, and many organizations have not been able to recover, heads of foundations and nonprofit groups have said.

InnVision formed in 1974 and has been Silicon Valley's largest provider of homeless services. It had a roughly $7 million budget and served 29,000 people who were homeless, at risk of homelessness, and low-income at 25 facilities. Services include housing and counseling at the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto and food and clothing closets. Approximately 4,000 to 6,000 people receive shelter annually.

Shelter Network provides serves 4,600 clients in San Mateo County through six facilities with an $8 million budget. Founded in 1987, the majority of its clients are families and veterans.

With the merger InnVision CEO Christine Burroughs is retiring after 24 years. She will remain as a consultant for some time, she said. She announced her departure to about 50 major donors in a June 22 letter. Shelter Network CEO Karae Lisle will run the merged agency.

Burroughs said she approached Shelter Network last fall to form a new entity, which would incorporate both agencies' programs and ideologies.

"It was a combination of factors. I decided it was time to step down. I felt with the economy being what it is, it would be better to partner. I'd like to do something a little less stressful," she said by phone last week.

Economy's challenges

InnVision had been struggling for some time since the 2008 economic crisis, and Burroughs offered perhaps a prescient outlook on InnVision's future in May 2009 during an interview:

"I'm on pins and needles, to tell you the truth," she said.

On April 30, 2011, the organization closed the Clara-Mateo Alliance homeless shelter on the grounds of the Veteran's Administration Menlo Park campus because of lean economic times, she said then. The shelter offered transitional housing for families and single adults, and 67 percent of the single residents were veterans.

Lisle said the merger offer came at a time when Shelter Network was looking to increase its bed capacity. More than 50 families with two to three children and more than 70 individuals are turned away every night for lack of space, she said. Those numbers are the average for the past two years, she said. Low-income wage earners such as two people making minimum wage can't afford an apartment here, she said.

San Mateo County provides families with children with a hotel voucher if there is no room at a shelter, she said. But that does not forward the goal of getting them in a stable environment and into permanent housing. The merger will allow more people to quickly gain access to shelter and housing at a fraction of the cost, Lisle said.

"With more than 18 major facilities, we can increase the capacity of the people we serve by three-fold. We don't have to start from scratch," she said.

Philosophically both agencies are similar, she said. Both have a no-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol and offer comprehensive services such as counseling for drug and alcohol addiction and for jobs and help for people with mental illness.

Both InnVision and Shelter Network serve approximately equal numbers of homeless families and single adults in emergency/transitional housing programs. Approximately 60 percent of clients are families, and of those over half are children under age 18. Roughly 40 percent of transitional clients are single adults, said Communications Manager Maria Duzon.

'Beyond the bed'

Lisle said the two organizations differ in some ways. InnVision charged fees for shelter. The new organization offers shelter at no charge. The merged agency will instead use Shelter Network's "Beyond the Bed" program, which includes counseling, job assistance, and child care and even taking clients to and from job interviews.

Clients must work toward an education, job and saving 50 percent of their budget to break the cycle of homelessness. More than 90 percent of families graduating from the transitional programs find and maintain permanent housing in about 120 days — less than half the national average. InnVision client stays were slightly over the national average of 232 days, she said.

Lisle said she plans to hire 10 to 20 more caseworkers to manage the large caseload; InnVision laid off some of its caseworkers during the economic downturn. There are no planned staff layoffs or program closures.

Dan Coonan, InnVision board president, said he supports the merger.

"I firmly believe this is a match made in Heaven — perhaps literally. I think the two organizations complement each other so well. The further we explored the merger, the more we felt that to be true.

"I have enormous respect for both Christine Burroughs and Karae Lisle. Karae is absolutely the perfect person to carry on the tremendous work Christine has been doing for decades in this area. I am very excited about the future with this combined organization. It is a very good day for this critical cause in the Bay Area," he wrote in an email.

Sue Dremann is a staff writer for the Palo Alto Weekly, the Voice's sister paper.

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