Homeless coalition weighs service cuts, defends "lean" salaries

Grappling with a shortfall in government funding and a rising tide of people displaced by a wretched economy, officers and senior staff of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless will make some tough decisions this evening about what they and their needy clients can do without. Should it be the mobile health clinic that visits area shelters? The program that provides transitional services for homeless patients discharged from hospitals? Or something else?

The loss of more than $3 million in state and federal funds has left the CCFH scrambling for ways to trim roughly a fifth of the amount it now spends on health care and mental-health services. The organization, which has almost 500 employees, may also consider internal cuts and layoffs. But a CCFH spokeswoman defends its administrative costs as "lean" -- including the $180,000 compensation package of its longtime president, John Parvensky.

"We run at ten percent administrative costs, which is dramatically lower than other nonprofits," says BJ Iacino. "We work pretty lean around here."

Before the recession took hold last year, CCFH's revenues increased by 50 percent between 2003 and 2008. Parvensky, who's spearheaded the organization since 1986 and has emerged as a national figure in shaping policy toward the homeless, has seen his own pay almost double in that period. According to the coalition's 2008 tax return, Parvensky received $111,115 in salary that year, along with another $70,654 in compensation from CCFH and related organizations. The total amount is comparable to what officers of other major community-oriented nonprofits, such as the Mile High United Way, are paid.

CCFH lists several other officers and key employees who earn six-figure salaries, including medical professionals who could probably command more in the private sector. "Our salaries are not only comparable to other nonprofits, they tend to be a bit lower," Iacino says. "It's a philosophical imperative for us to maintain a low administrative cost. It's our intention to help as many people as we can."

Slashing salaries, in any case, would hardly address the current upswing in demands for services the CCFH is seeing from job losses, foreclosures and what Iacino describes as "the newly homeless." Hundreds of people are on the organization's waiting list for mental health services, and hundreds more are seeking beds at shelters already squeezed for space.

"It's stunning to us, the growing level of need," Iacino says. "We're having trouble keeping pace."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast