The Human Services Committee examined the funds distributed to not-for-profit agencies within the Evanston community on July 7. The discussion came in response to a memo presented at the request of Alderman Coleen Burrus, the Committee's current chair, detailing the total amount of money distributed to each social service agency.
The discussion was also informed and deeply affected by the recent outbreak of violence in the community. The Human Services Committee meeting started more than 30 minutes late because of a full Council executive session meeting concerning what Ald. Burrus called "City business of an emergency nature" that "takes precedence" over a Committee meeting. Several sources indicated one topic of executive session was how to respond to recent shootings and murders in the community.
According to the memo provided, the City distributes about $300,000 into the community through social service agencies every year. Ald. Burrus called the current approach "piecemeal," saying "we have the power to make a difference" if Council takes a "much more coordinated approach."
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the City needs to make sure funding matched with the stated City goals. She said given the various goals, funding for recreation and parks may be a part of the discussion as well, and that one key is looking at agencies providing "some of the services that we do not provide."
The City is "not putting a stake in the ground and saying we are going to help solve whatever problem," said Ald. Burrus. A coordinated, informed, and comprehensive examination of funding, including as a point of reference funding distributed by the Evanston Community Foundation, would allow the City a more active role in solving community problems. Seeing what other funding agencies received would allow the City to see how funds can be leveraged to produce the greatest gain.
She said the public often asks, "What are we going to do about the violence in the community," or workforce development, or housing. A comprehensive approach would reveal to the public exactly what the City is doing.
In the end, the discussion returned to violence and how to address it. "We're talking about a vision," said Ald. Burrus. "We're trying to make this the most livable City in the country, We have to stop the violence if that's going to be the case. We have to.... sorry to be so passionate about this. Just too much, too much badness happening."
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that staff will return with additional information at an upcoming meeting and for future budgets, starting with 2016, Council can take a more active role in shaping community service grants toward a unified purpose. The Mental Health Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee and any other agency distributing funds should be a part of such discussions.
The new Cradle-to-Career initiative is taking a similar approach – trying to unify social service agencies toward a common vision. Rather than funding in a manner that Ald. Burrus said appears to be "scattered," a more centralized vision of solving particular problems, beginning with violence in the community, should inform funding decisions going forward.