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Normal looks to divert homeless services grant from PATH for apparent noncompliance

Town of Normal sign
WGLT file photo
Normal is accepting written public comment and will hold a hearing Jan. 18 at the Normal Public Library to get any community input.

Restructuring at PATH Inc. might cause the Bloomington-based nonprofit to lose a federal grant meant to aid people who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, said Town of Normal Community Development Specialist Jennifer Toney.

PATH, which operates multiple statewide help hotlines and a homeless services division, has had high turnover across executive leadership positions this year, including the combined CEO and executive director role.

As a result, Toney said the organization failed to report on staffing and service delivery related to $24,000 Normal had allocated to PATH under the Community Development Block Grant program — an initiative through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD].

Now, Normal wants to reallocate the funds that went untouched. Under the proposal, $10,000 would go to Unit 5 and $14,000 would go to the local Salvation Army branch.

Toney said there are less than three months left for the money to be spent, and more importantly, for the chosen organizations to deliver aid to people in the community experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

“We had to choose between having nothing to report this year, and not meeting not only our annual goals, but putting our five-year goal in jeopardy, or reallocating those funds to other organizations that were maybe going to be able to actually spend some of the funding where it needs to go and serving the clients that it's intended to serve,” Toney said. “So we opted to go with that route, really because ultimately, it's probably the best thing for the community.”

High turnover at PATH

PATH's interim CEO Adam Carter was only recently appointed and is still getting a handle on all that needs to be done, including what may have gone wrong with this grant. He was appointed by the board of directors on Dec. 27, replacing Interim CEO Martha Evans, who assumed the position in April upon then-CEO Chris Workman’s death.

Carter said he was unable to comment directly on the situation until he learns more, but he did provide a brief statement via email.

“PATH, Inc is aware of the budgetary amendment with the town of Normal, and we are actively exploring how we can continue to partner with Normal to support homeless individuals,” he wrote. “We value our ongoing collaboration with the town and remain committed to finding innovative solutions to address homelessness in our community."

Carter also addressed the high turnover at PATH, writing that there are several positions — including his own — that need to be filled permanently. Interim staff are in place for the director and assistant director of the 988 Call Center, a human resources manager, and a homeless services team member. [PATH’s website has out-of-date information for current employment].

Meeting HUD’s deadline

When PATH received the Community Development Block Grant funds, it was tasked with hiring a part-time staff member and assisting at least 20 clients between April 1 and March 31 — federal deadlines created by HUD. Toney said PATH has not communicated whether they’ve done either. It’s possible, she added, the agency has helped no one.

With little time left for Unit 5 and Salvation Army to meet annual goals if the reallocation is approved, Toney said expectations will be adjusted based on what each organization thinks they can accomplish. However, the money is still going to go toward helping people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Unit 5 and Salvation Army plans

Unit 5 spokesperson Dayna Brown said the school district was approached by the Town of Normal to participate in the Community Development Block Grant, adding the district has seen a growing number of students experiencing homelessness, with around 130 students currently identified as such.

“It’s a huge issue in the schools,” said Brown, adding the district’s been contacted at night by students or families who are housing insecure.

Brown said it’s part of the district’s mission to help them.

“We work in many capacities to break down barriers to education, and there's literally no greater barrier than not having a place to live,” she said.

At Salvation Army, Regional Social Service Director JoAnna Callahan wrote in an email that the agency is thankful for the opportunity. Their plan would be to use the funds for emergency hotel shelter placement, rent and utility assistance, food items and transportation — all through pre-existing programs.

She added that Salvation Army and PATH have collaborated in the past, and she hopes they find their way.

“PATH has experienced a lot of turnover and challenges in recent times,” she wrote. “We want to see PATH remain a pillar in the community. As they navigate what their next steps may be, it is important that the community needs are prioritized to include use of all available funding support.”

Next steps

Normal is accepting written public comment and will hold a hearing Jan. 18 at the Normal Public Library to get any community input.

Toney said that as of Tuesday she had not heard about any formal feedback, though she was aware of comments made via social media. She said while informal, those also will be taken into consideration. [Normal posted about the reallocation proposal on Facebook and Nextdoor].

Once the hearing is over, Normal will submit a formal amendment to HUD, including any public comments.

Future Community Development Block Grant funding has not been specifically allocated. Toney said there’s money set aside for homeless services, but the town has not yet selected where it will go.

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Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.
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