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Posted: October 18, 2012 8:44 p.m.

A shelter in need

We have stated previously that we support a public shelter for homeless people in our community.

We have also stated that we appreciate the efforts of Clara Lett and some members of the nonprofit's board of directors, which often meets without having a quorum, in keeping the shelter operating.

However, the homeless shelter recently found itself on the verge of shutting down because it didn't have enough money to pay its utility bill, let alone the tens of thousands of dollars in back rent it owes. Had the shelter closed, its 49 residents, including both local and out-of-county adults and children, would have been turned out on the street.

We were pleased to see Mayor Ronnie Johnston step up and lead an effort to keep the shelter open. He alerted local media and interested community leaders and more than $16,000 was raised to keep the doors open: for now.

Donations are important and needed, but one day the community might not be able to or grow tired of raising thousands of dollars to fix an emergency situation.

Mayor Johnston has said he doesn't want to see the shelter get in such straits again, and he is working aggressively to ensure people are put in place on the board and in the shelter's management structure to create a sustainable shelter that can help families in need for decades to come.

In order for the shelter to be effective, complete transparency is needed. There's been a lack of transparency in recent years about the shelter's finances and exactly how it's spent the money it receives. When this paper tried to look in-depth at the shelter's finances and operations, it was repeatedly stonewalled by officials who didn't turn over requested documents.

Already some community leaders are starting to circle the wagons around the shelter's director, the Rev. Clara Lett, because they're taking offense at the call for transparency and professional management.

Nobody that we know is questioning the heart and compassion of Ms. Lett, who has devoted her life to helping some of our most downtrodden citizens. Mayor Johnston and others are trying to help the shelter survive, not attack anyone's integrity.

We urge the current management and board of the homeless shelter to open their books to the community and let it continue to show the compassion it's proved again and again over the years.

 

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