PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (Dec 23, 2020) – President and CEO Kirk Ray Smith of Hope Villages of America, formerly RCS Pinellas (HVA), shared today that inaccurate and biased reporting by the Tampa Bay Times could have long-term negative effects on Grace House, the nonprofit’s family shelter.
Hope Villages of America is a well-respected, effective, impactful and controlled nonprofit organization, and is taking a stance against inaccurate information and will continue to support those in the most need.
“We are completely transparent about the ending of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB) contract and our need to ask for the community’s support,” Smith said, “but the interview was unfortunately turned into something to elicit sensationalism.”
After several years, one contract between the JWB and HVA, focused on Grace House operations, will end on February 28, 2021. A second, larger contract between JWB and HVA focused on The Haven, HVA’s domestic violence shelter, remains in place; therefore, the relationship with JWB is intact and ongoing.
“We take issue with inflammatory statements made throughout the piece—and beginning with the headline—as well as the uneven reporting that did not include our point-by-point answers to questions about the JWB memo. The article only states that we did, in fact, address these points, but it doesn’t discuss what those points were, therefore not showing our answers and how we addressed the issues. We take exception especially with the claims that an individual worked with children without a background check, which was untrue, and that Grace House guests had two overdose deaths; again, inaccurate.
“We are an independent, local nonprofit with our own internal policies and processes, overseen by our Board of Directors, that ensure compliance with funder requirements and the communities we serve. We addressed those comments and concerns of JWB’s that related to the administration of their funds; they chose to terminate the contract before the end of their review period and without noting our compliance. When it comes to changing lives and ending homelessness, Grace House is a resounding success: We are proud that 90 percent of families who complete the program move to stable housing. These numbers speak for themselves.”
Smith also expressed disappointment that the article repeated information about former employee complaints. “All we can say is that any complaints filed against the organization have been dismissed. The root of the matter is, we have undertaken a multi-year, multi-phase reorganization that brought a nonprofit operating in the red for decades to sustainability—that includes decisions that are the best for the organization in the long term but may not be understood or welcomed in the short term by some employees. We have had our Board of Directors’ full support and will continue the course to ensure HVA’s sustainability—because our mission to address Housing, Hunger and Abuse is too important to lose. We’ve also concentrated on building a culture of diversity, respect and appreciation. Staff retention is at 71 percent, but not everyone will find their purpose and passion with us—and we understand that.”
The end of the contract leaves Grace House with a potential funding shortfall, which Smith hopes the community can help meet. “We’re calling on individuals, groups, churches, business owners and corporations to join us in ensuring these vulnerable members of our community are protected and feel valued in these already unsettling days. We also want to say thank you to the City of Clearwater, City of Largo and City of St. Pete for their continued support of Grace House.”
Each year six Grace House staff and numerous volunteers serve homeless individuals and families with care and compassion. “Homeless families are one of the fastest-growing demographics we serve,” Smith reported. “There are only 180 beds for homeless families in Pinellas County, which has a population of more than 1 million. Hope Villages provides half of those beds, and Grace House offers dignified apartment-style emergency shelter to homeless families with children for up to three months. We touch more than 300 lives each year through Grace House—60 percent of whom are children.”
Food, clothing and household goods are available to residents, and Grace House staff work one-on-one with families, providing case management, education, job readiness and helping guests save money to secure stable housing. When it comes to changing lives and ending homelessness, Grace House is a resounding success: “97 percent of those who complete our program remain stably housed for the first year.”
“We certainly will not let the shelter close, pushing those families onto the streets—and neither will we lay off the Grace House case managers and other employees who serve them. Homeless families are one of the fastest-growing demographics we serve. And all of these families need us now more than ever due to the pandemic. And we’re deeply disappointed to see local media report inaccuracies that could cause detrimental impact, especially at the holidays and when so many in our community are struggling due to loss of income and facing food and housing insecurity.”
We urgently need the community’s help to support homeless families on their journey from Grace House to self-sufficiency; show your support today at rcspinellas.org.
MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Vickery | firstname.lastname@example.org
About Hope Villages of America: Formerly RCS Pinellas (RCS), the organization established in 1967, is a registered 501(c)(3) organization that addresses the needs of the hungry, homeless and victims of domestic violence in Pinellas County. This mission is advanced through five distinct but integrated programs: The Food Bank, Basic Services, Affordable Housing, The Haven Domestic Violence Shelter and Grace House. These programs operate in more than 60,000 square feet of service space and serve more than 130,000 participants annually throughout Pinellas County. In 2019 RCS was awarded GuideStar’s Gold Seal of Transparency for the second year in a row and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce Biggest Community Impact award. For more information, visit www.rcspinellas.org or call 727-584-3528.