ASAP Homeless Services in St. Petersburg temporarily shuts its drop-in center and dismisses its tiny staff

ST. PETERSBURG — An agency that has fed and provided shelter for the homeless and poor for a quarter-century temporarily shut the doors of its drop-in center Monday.

A sign on the door of ASAP Homeless Services announced that the center is closed until next Monday.

The move came the same day that board members dismissed its only employees, executive director Karen Bolden and two part-time staffers, and one day before the electricity was shut off. It was back on later that day.

The temporary closure means the agency, which has struggled financially over the years, will not be open to the men and women who gather in its back yard each weekday morning for a hot breakfast, shower and change of clothing. Board members say, though, that volunteers are available to assist the homeless who use ASAP's address to receive mail. Although the family and women and children shelters remained open Tuesday, at least two residents expressed uncertainty about their housing.

"Our board and our volunteers are committed to ensuring ASAP's strategic mission and vision and long-term plans are accomplished," said board chairman Shaun C. Robinson.

He said the agency will operate with board and volunteer support "until we can better assess what the best alternative is to ensuring we are providing excellent client support and excellent service.''

He added that the drop-in center "is going through a period of upgrades, changes and modifications'' and that the agency hopes to reopen it before Monday.

Robinson, who lives in Tampa and said he joined the ASAP board because of concern for the homeless, declined to discuss finances.

Bolden said, however, that board members told her money was a factor in her layoff.

"They said we didn't have enough money to keep going,'' she said, adding that she was criticized for not winning enough grants.

Bolden who has headed ASAP for seven years, said the agency's major fundraiser, the Holiday Hope Gala, held recently at the St. Petersburg Country Club, brought in only $12,500. That was much less than the $27,000 to $40,000 it made in previous years, she said, adding the majority of board members did not support the fundraiser.

Earlier this year, with revenues of $292,000 and expenses of $348,000, the agency let most of its staff go. In an effort to make ends meet, it cut back on showers for the homeless, limiting them to the first 20 people to sign up each morning.

"Many nonprofit organizations have experienced reduced donations and lower than expected grants and because of that, the organizations that plan for that and can adjust for that are the organizations that will be able to provide the services that our communities need,'' Robinson said.

ASAP is "taking appropriate action to forecast and mitigate those potential financial quandaries to make sure that this organization not only survives, but it thrives and grows to be the leading supporter for homeless families in the Tampa Bay area," he said.

Shelley Eckert, a volunteer from Treasure Island who organized a two-day music benefit in July and again brought together musicians for the recent gala, is upset about Bolden's dismissal. She doesn't see how Robinson and other board members are going to manage without her, Eckert said.

"They've not got enough volunteers for the daily stuff. They don't have the skills that Karen does. They don't have the contacts that Karen does,'' she said.

Eckert said she is inviting people to speak up at Thursday's board of directors' meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the HUB, 1055 Fourth St. S, site of an ASAP program to help the homeless become self-sufficient.

Robinson declined to comment on Bolden's dismissal, citing legal reasons. "I can say that she was an outstanding supporter for homeless causes in St. Petersburg and she performed her job to the best of her ability,'' he said.

Tuesday, the belongings of one resident sat in the front yard of an ASAP home as she readied to move to her daughter's house. Amber Barker, 25, who has lived at the shelter for more than two months, expressed residents' concern.

"We're not sure what's happening,'' she said, adding that the board told residents that they would let them know after the meeting Thursday whether they would still have homes.

Robinson said the residents misunderstood.

"We've made no plans in the immediate future to close the women's and children's shelter or the family shelter,'' he said.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

FAST FACTS

To help

ASAP Homeless Services, 423 11th Ave. S

(727) 823-5665

info@asaphomeless.org

ASAP Homeless Services in St. Petersburg temporarily shuts its drop-in center and dismisses its tiny staff 11/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 5:09pm]

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