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Charity lays off 15, cuts service

Metropolitan Ministries says a $1-million drop in donations has forced it to abandon a program that helps homeless men.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003

TAMPA -- With donations taking a nose dive, Metropolitan Ministries has decided to lay off 15 employees and close down a program that helps homeless men.

A continuing recession, the threat of war and an anemic stock market all likely conspired to hurt donations to the area's best-known charity for the homeless and poor.

Last year at this time, the ministry had raised about $4-million, said president Morris Hintzman. This year, the total is closer to $3-million.

The charity could not make up the deficit by belt-tightening, he said, and more substantial measures were needed.

The 15 layoffs, plus the elimination of five unfilled positions, will reduce the payroll from 106 employees to 86, Hintzman said. The downturn in donations was the worst Hintzman had experienced in 20 years with the charity.

"This is a generous community and has been very good to the people we serve," Hintzman said. "This is not intended to be ungrateful to the community, but we had to make a decision before things got out of control."

The charity tracked giving and noticed a dip beginning in August and September, when many of the larger donations begin coming in, Hintzman said.

The number of smaller gifts in the $100 to $500 range was about the same as the previous year. The total number of major donations was also about the same, Hintzman said. But the amount of money in those larger gifts was down, he said.

Hintzman speculated that many contributors didn't have the same amount of money in their stock portfolios when it came time to decide how much to contribute.

The layoffs came mostly from staff who worked in the single men's residential program, a six-month program that helps men with vocational training, substance abuse and job placement, among other things. About 100 to 150 men start the program each year, although some would drop out before completion. The program will be phased out over the next couple of months.

The other layoffs came from administration and fundraising, Hintzman said. On the bright side, the closure of the 40-bed program will allow the charity to open up six additional beds in the family and single women's shelters, Hintzman said.

"We have so many families coming to us, that I felt we had to keep those programs and eliminate the one for single men," Hintzman said.

Metropolitan Ministries was founded in 1972 by 13 downtown Tampa churches to serve homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless.

Today, the charity, among other things, runs a shelter for up to 44 families, and programs for adult education, mentoring and drug and alcohol recovery. It also has 20 meal sites, prepares thousands of meals each week and operates a food and toy drive during the holiday season. Those programs will continue, Hintzman said.

Donations account for about 92 percent of the total budget. About 8 percent of its funding comes from the government. More than 80 percent of donations come from individuals and companies; only 4 percent, from congregations. Much of the support comes from non-Christians.

Last January, a controversy erupted after news stories about the charity's policy barring non-Christians from serving on the board of directors.

The ministry had asked executives at TECO Energy to suggest possible candidates for the board. In 2001, TECO had paid the last $200,000 installment on a $1-million pledge to the ministry's capital campaign.

TECO suggested Linda Karson, the wife of a TECO senior vice president, who had worked with pregnant teenagers and the homeless. But Karson learned she wasn't eligible for the board because she was Jewish.

TECO Energy then told the charity that unless the bylaw changed, the company couldn't give any money in the future to a group that discriminated on the basis of religion.

Soon after, the ministry agreed to let non-Christian's serve on the board, although it limited their ranks to no more than one-third of the total members. That quota raised further questions and the board voted in April to do away with it.

Today, at least three board members are non-Christians, and the charity is open to more, Hintzman said.

TECO did not give the charity any money in 2002, said spokeswoman Laura Plumb. In a recession, the company often has fewer dollars to donate, she said. Given that TECO had just finished giving Metropolitan Ministries $1-million, it would not be unusual for the company to target other charities needing support, she said.

"We try to spread our philanthropy across as many worthy organizations as we can," Plumb said.

The controversy might have discouraged some people from making donations, but the overall effect was likely minimal, Hintzman said. He said the TECO donation went to a capital drive, not day-to-day operations.

Also, the controversy erupted in January last year. By the end of the fiscal year in June, donations were up about $800,000 over the previous fiscal year. Hintzman said the controversy likely would have influenced last year's giving more than this year's.

"Let's get the markets moving up again and we should see some recovery in donations," he said.

-- Graham Brink can be reached at (813)226-3365 or .

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