The Arch Street Center, which works to provide a friendly gathering place for adults suffering mental health issues, almost went under during last year’s budget impasse. With staff members cut from 12 to zero and, after some wrangling, back up to three, the center would have not have been able to maintain any of its normal services if it were not for the generosity and understanding of the surrounding community. And, as Harrisburg approaches the 2010-2011 budget, Arch Street executive director Susan Lilly fears that history may repeat itself.
“We’re really in a preparing-for-the-worst kind of mode,” Lilly said, looking to the next fiscal year. No solid assurances have yet come from state that such a standoff will be averted this summer.
About 75% of Arch Street Center’s income depends on state allocations.
Due to the 2009 impasse, Arch Street had to temporarily lay off all 12 of its employees in July. By the early fall, they had rehired three of those employees, but had little additional funding to continue some of the center’s core programs, like the evening meals served each night at no mandatory cost. “We were spending roughly $3,000 a month on food, and we didn’t have that at all,” Lilly said.
It was only through voluntary contributions from individuals and organizations in the community that the center could continue providing these dinners, Lilly said.
During the slowest grind of the impasse, Arch Street spoke out against the state legislature’s lack of cooperative progress by staging a picket-line protest at Penn Square on a Friday afternoon. “One of the things we were loudest about was that it really seemed like our legislature and our governor weren’t willing to work together,” Lilly explained, “Everyone drew a line in the sand, and it’s the most vulnerable that are most affected.”
After the public event, and its resulting local news coverage, donations began to flow in from individuals who had never known that the center existed.
Until state dollars reached the center late last year, community support was Arch Street’s bread and butter. St. John’s Lutheran Church, which houses the organization and only requires utility payments, went without those monthly checks; Warwick Middle School held a canned food drive; area churches took care of entire meals.
If one good thing came of last year’s fiscal crisis, Lilly said, it was the strengthening of involvement from the local community. But Arch Street is hoping that it will not again find itself relying so desperately on voluntary support. “Are we going to be in the same boat again?,” Lilly said, “The rumor that you hear is that we are.”