Homeless nonprofit Key Alliance in disarray after board defections

Monday, August 13, 2012 at 7:41am

The nonprofit fundraising arm of Metro’s Homelessness Commission has lost the majority of its board of directors amid legal concerns on its overlap with Metro government, raising questions about the group’s future just three years after it launched.

For now, by Tennessee law, the group known as The Key Alliance lacks the required three board members to be an active 501(c)3 nonprofit. Homelessness advocates and commissioners must now determine how — or whether — to fill its void in a city where an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 people sleep on the streets, at shelters or in cars each night.

The Key Alliance formed in 2009 with a bold mission: “ending homelessness in Nashville.” With a well-connected board of directors, the new nonprofit entity would raise funds from the private sector to complement the efforts of the 22-member Metro Homelessness Commission, a government entity that operates on a $1.4 million budget.

“Homelessness is a community issue,” The Key Alliance’s website reads.

In the beginning, the organization had an eight-person board of directors, and, at least on paper, shared an executive director with the Metro Homelessness Commission. (Clifton Harris was listed on tax forms as Key Alliance director, but he contends he was actually only the director of the homelessness commission).

Now membership has dissipated, and The Key Alliance no longer has an executive. Even before these developments, The Key Alliance’s fundraising prowess was never at the level organizers envisioned. In 2010, the group delivered just $26,000 to assist individuals, according to tax records, with far more dollars covering operational expenses.

Its latest round of board departures — after Metro attorneys questioned whether Metro employees could also work under a nonprofit — came in late July when The Key Alliance’s board chair Barry Gammons and board member Ben Shuster both stepped down. Those moves whittled the board from four to two members. The remainder are both Davidson County elected officials. Its board currently lacks any private-sector representation.

“We’ve run into a wall,” said longtime homeless advocate Howard Gentry, Davidson County’s Criminal Court Clerk and former vice mayor, who is one of The Key Alliance’s two remaining board members. He called the group’s inactivity an “unfortunate situation” but hopes The Key Alliance can be salvaged.
“I just don’t want to see the fundraising arm dissolve,” said Gentry, who also sits on the homelessness commission. “Because without it, there’s no way that I know of that we could actually fund — adequately — an effort to end homelessness.”

Neither Gammons nor Shuster returned The City Paper’s requests for comment. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, the other remaining Key Alliance board member, said she hadn’t attended its board meetings in several months and would be of “no help” in discussing the group.

Spurring The Key Alliance board’s depletion, the Metro Department of Law recently advised the homelessness commission against allowing Metro employees to also act as representatives of The Key Alliance. As a nonprofit entity, The Key Alliance should operate independently of the city government, city attorneys say.

“Metro employees are just that — they’re employees of Metro,” Metro attorney Corey Harkey said. “They need to be doing Metro business.”

The Metro Homelessness Commission — which includes several Metro council members, and representatives from the business community, mayor’s office, police department and other governmental entities — is set to consider its future collaboration with The Key Alliance this week. The commission’s executive committee will discuss the matter Aug. 15.

Erik Cole, a former councilman who chairs the homelessness commission, said the “immediate goal” is to identify some additional people to replenish The Key Alliance’s now-defunct board. “In the longer term,” Cole said, the commission would ask various questions: “Does a separate nonprofit really work? Should we be looking at something maybe a little less administrative going forward?”

Cole said the commission would be recommending some potential ways to provide functions similar to what The Key Alliance was charged with — perhaps transitioning to a fund, he said, or tapping existing groups such as The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Gentry said he hopes The Key Alliance can be restructured. He said Metro should look at other cities where groups like United Way collaborate with municipalities.

“The funds are important, there’s no question,” Cole said of The Key Alliance, adding that its dollars support the homeless who are living on the streets. “But they haven’t raised as much money as we had hoped.”

In The Key Alliance’s 2010 income tax returns (the most recent available), the group reported revenue of $65,531 from contributions, gifts and grants. Fundraising events for that year produced a net of only $6,150.

Yet the homelessness commission’s 2009-10 annual report declared “we are now positioned” to raise $35 million over the next five years, $20 million which would be from the private sector.

Today, confusion persists over the simple identification of The Key Alliance’s past leadership. Those active in homelessness efforts contend the group’s executive director title went to Clifton Harris, the former homelessness commission director. Backing this up are previous press releases that reference him as The Key Alliance’s director. In The Key Alliance’s 2010 income tax return, Harris is also listed as such. Nevertheless, Harris told The City Paper he only represented the commission.

“I was not the executive director of The Key Alliance,” said Harris, who left the homelessness commission in July to launch a personal luxury vehicle service.

The Key Alliance’s website highlights a handful of fundraising and awareness campaigns. Among these: a “Poker Run,” which was to be held this past Saturday, and an upcoming “Art for Change” event in September, whereby illustrators are encouraged to create art for Nashville’s Adopt-a-Meter program.

Modeled on a program in Denver, Adopt-a-Meter — created in 2010 — allows people to drop spare change into dozens of blue meters that dot downtown, with proceeds going toward rental assistance and to promote a “Housing First” model, which seeks to offer permanent housing. Corporations such as Southwest Airlines have paid to sponsor individual meters.

Last year, Mayor Karl Dean and Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson teamed up for a public service television announcement to raise awareness for The Key Alliance.

“Nashville is a great city, but it would be even greater if we could get our homeless neighbors off the street,” Johnson says in the commercial.

Dean chimes in: “Everybody wants to do something to help, but no one can do it alone.” He then encourages people to join The Key Alliance by visiting its website.

Cole, a former Key Alliance board member, said the alliance has held successful individual fundraising events, but has fallen short in “large-donor campaigns.” He added, “We just haven’t been able to staff it the way you have to staff a fundraising group.”

The impetus for The Key Alliance in the first place was to offer additional financial aid for the initiatives of the homelessness commission, which is financially stretched, having to use funds for a four-member staff and other overhead.

Carolyn Grossley, tapped as the homelessness commission’s interim director to replace Harris, said the department’s primary goals are to provide housing solutions and coordinate with other organizations with those same missions. She mentioned Project Homeless Connect, a one-year event (set for February) that brings services such as medical check-ups and employment assistance to the homeless. She also cited the commission’s SOAR (SSI/SSDI) outreach program, which seeks to deliver the homeless income through the Social Security Administration.

“It’s providing to people who wouldn’t otherwise have an income,” Grossley said.

Cole pointed out the commission he heads isn’t the only entity in town trying to tackle homelessness. Other groups include Room In The Inn, Safe Haven and Matthew 25. “They’re all providing good services,” adding that the commission’s role is to support that existing work and identify gaps in which to deliver assistance.

In the weeks ahead, the commission will also be tasked with hiring a full-time director. Grossley said she would be applying.

On the commission’s government website is a link to Mayor Bill Purcell-era plan to end “chronic homelessness” in Nashville within 10 years, or 2015. It was this document that recommended the establishment of the commission, which held its first meeting seven years ago this month.

The Metro Development Housing Agency’s 2011 point-in-time head count found 1,885 people living in shelters on one particular night, and 360 living outdoors.

The homelessness commission is the type of government board that goes overlooked by most, but not by homeless advocate Steve Reiter, known for his constant presence at virtually all Metro public meetings. He attends each one with a pen and pad.

He gave his opinion of the commission: “Basically, it’s been overpromising and underdelivering for quite some time.”

16 Comments on this post:

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 8/13/12 at 6:58

Don't other Metro agencies have nonprofits that support them (library, hospital,etc.)? Maybe people think they are more important than helping the homeless?

By: Jughead on 8/13/12 at 7:37

For the most part, bums chose their lifestyles. I say disband and use what is left over to buy one-way bus tickets for these "homeless."

I am so sick of do-gooders telling me I have a responsibility to support people who drink and drug themselves death.

Stray dogs need more help, and have more dignity.

By: Capiscan on 8/13/12 at 9:12

I would remind Jughead that two-thirds of the homeless suffer from mental illness.

It is inappropriate to buy bus tickets and send the homeless to another city that has its own problems. Better to solve our own problems and serve as a model for other cities and towns.

I suspect that when Jughead receives assistance he deserves it; when you or I receive assistance, we are "milking the system.' Bah humbug, indeed.

By: Eye Nose & Now ... on 8/13/12 at 9:52

Clifton Harris was making over $100,000 per year in what was basically a useless
job. He must have REALLY found something better than that. In Nashville the
situation has really improved at the Rescue Mission. Former director Carl Resener died about
a year ago. He was the most worthless individual to ever enter the door of the
Mission as he had a chance to help hundreds of thousands, but he did basically
nothing. He had ice in his blood. He lurked around the the Mission for 50 years, then retired to his nice home in Donelson BUT his sorry legacy continued as Don Worrell continued all of the sadistic practices of Resener. I said for years as long
as Resener was living there'd be no changes and Nashville would keep its
national reputation as having by far the coldest, most corrupt mission in America.
Don Worrell didn't last long after Resener and he retired "just short of 25 years."
THAT'S a red flag. Was he told to retire or be fired?
The new Director Cranfield has made TREMENDOUS improvements. No longer
do people trying to work have to start lining up at 2:30 PM to get a bed that night.
Now they hand out beds after chapel, around 8:00. Cranfield now feeds decent
meals. With Resener and Worrell it was oatmeal (no sugar) and a piece of bread
for breakfast, with water. And Worrell was running ads on TV that implored people to donate"Just $2.26 will provide a meal at the mission." LOL!
Sounds like an open and shut case of FRAUD.
Cliff Tredway, the publicity man for the Mission was arrested on 5 misdemeanor
drug charges and FOUR FELONY! drug charges three weeks ago. If Tredway was
smart he'd help expose the CORRUPTION which has gone on for something
like 58 years and get his felony charges reduced to misdemeanors. I hope
he does this.
At this time I think Worrell is worried and looking over his shoulder knowing
what he and Resener were up to for decades might be exposed. About time!
PS Only ONE news outlet reported the Tredway arrest: Channel 2. The
Mission advertises heavily on the other channels. Go figure.

By: Jughead on 8/13/12 at 9:57

@Capiscan: You are part of the problem. I do not believe in a welfare state, and never will. I guess self-responsibility is not sexy enough for your modern and diverse world. I don't take "assistance" ...i.e..free government stuff....and never will.

If you spent ANY time at the public library, you would revisit your opinion. 90% of those leeches are simply lazy pukes who choose not to work, and then get nimrods like you to feel sorry for them.

I will donate my time and money to children's hospitals, animal shelters, and cancer research. Those folks come upon dire situations by happenstance, not CHOICE. They need our help.

So, keep your socialist hand out of my pocket, Crapscan.

By: Jughead on 8/13/12 at 10:00

The bums downtown rape, kill, commit burglaries, urinate on the street, and steall from the merchants.

Now--why am I supposed to help these criminals? Jail them, send them packing. Then WORKING people can feel safer.

I hope someone sues the Downtown Presbyterian Church someday when one of their "patrons" does something awful on Church property. They invite these dangerous creeps to mingle with productive people, and feed them.

By: yucchhii on 8/13/12 at 2:30

To JUGHEAD...AGAIN, YOUR USERNAME IS APPROPRIATE FOR YOU!! You have NOTHING IN THAT JUG OF YOURS...NOTHING AT ALL! It's a CLEAR jug too we can se you have NOTHING in there!! You catagorize ALL homeless people as bums, alkees and druggies!! I can tell you have the mentality that makes you think YOU will NEVER be homeless. YOU are the IDIOT if you don't see what the politicians are doing to this country! Maybe YOU ARE ONE OF THEM!! You don't know just how close YOU are to being homeless! There are sooooooo many reasons for people being homeless and they are not always at fault...believe it or not, the fault a lot of time belongs to PEOPLE LIKE YOU!! Don't think you will ever be homeless? Make sure that when you get to the Nashville rescue mission, you get rid of that attitude REAL FAST!! You WON'T survive with it!!

By: yucchhii on 8/13/12 at 2:40

To JUGHEAD...AGAIN: YOU ARE THE MOST EGOTISTCAL BASTARD TO BE ON THIS COMMENT THREAD!! I don't really wish homelessness on anyone...BUT YOU, NEED TO EXPERIENCE IT!! Just as well as ALL politicians need to. You need to be placed on ther street with your $$$ taken away and NOT told WHEN your going to be safe again!! To all who read this...excuse my language but this IDIOT IS A COMPLETE 100% USDA PRIME CHOICE ASSHOLE!! JUGHEAD, YOU NEED TO BE ON THE STREETS!!!! Eboneezer scrooge!!!

By: Ask01 on 8/13/12 at 7:48

The sad truth is most of us are just a short slide down the hill from being homeless.

Layoffs, unexpected, long term medical emergencies, any number of unimagined, and absolutely innocent scenarios could suddenly present themselves, resulting in eventually being homeless.

Many people will smugly deny the possiblity, unjustifiably trusting in their false job security or refusing to accept circumstances beyond their control could actually overwhelm them.

Perhaps the best experience would be for those who express such vitriole toward the unemployed and homeless would be to share their circumstances.

Perhaps finding themselves unemployed, or worse, homeless would be the best way for these compassionate conservatives to at least have a clue about these subjects before they put the mouth in gear before the brain is fully engaged.

I won't wish such a fate on anyone, but perhaps a little misfortune to adjust the attitude would not be so terrible.

By: Jughead on 8/14/12 at 7:10

Wow, yucchhii--thanks for proving my point. By the way, they never caught the bum who was shooting other bums in the head downtown a year ago, right?

Nope--won't be "homeless"--I WORKED my whole life, have long-term care insurance, and saved money instead of doing drugs and drinking myself to stupidity.

You do-gooders are hysterical. Step up to the plate for addicts and criminals, but would not lift a finger for those who need help and did not choose their paths. It's not about helping to liberal do-gooders, it's about telling others what to do.

Gather the bums and put them in a fenced camp. Make the streets safer for people who WORK.

By: govskeptic on 8/14/12 at 7:21

The Key Alliance was formed just to be an outside voice to support
the Mayor's Commission of Homelessness. Having a "supposedly"
outside group to support more taxpayer dollars does nothing to solve
this serious problem. Duplication of overhead cost is the problem
and waste of many dollars that could be going to the cause!

By: yucchhii on 8/14/12 at 7:43

JUGFACE...I mean JUGHEAD...You have NO POINT!! YOU JUST PROVED MINE!! Again you want to classify all homeless into the same catagory. I already know what your going to say when YOU become homeless, I would say how you'd FEEL, but you DON'T feel nothing!! Number one, it takes a heart to feel anything..you don't have one. As far as I'm concerned, you better hope and pray that I don't get into the position I am working on. I can promise that people who think like you would "NOT" like me and I say to that..."OH WELL!" I don't care what you have that makes you think you are soooo secure, POLITICIANS can take that away from you quicker than a heartbeat!! Then what? Don't try to force YOUR stupidity on me or other people!!! Instead of telling people about your PREconcieved idiotic thoughts, why don't you go and vollunteer your time at a place called the Woodbine presbytarian church on Nolensville road where they do overnights for homeless on wednesday and saturday nights and LEARN SOME TRUTH about homelessness. That will change your mind real quick!! Of course that's "IF" you have one to change!!!

By: Jughead on 8/14/12 at 8:39

@yucky: I prefer to volunteer my time to causes that deserve help. Homeless bums can drug and drink themselves to death--I will pay for the bodies to be thrown in the trash, just like they did with their lives.

So, STFU.

By: Jughead on 8/14/12 at 8:41

@yucky: Please post your real name. Then, I can review your criminal record and reveal how much $$$ taxpayers have paid to house you in jail, feed you, provide medical care, and fund public computers for you to use at the library.

Lazy bum. Get a job.

By: Ask01 on 8/15/12 at 3:50

Jugs, I too, have worked my entire life.

I have savings, and insurance.

After a career in the military, I have a pension coming in every month to which, in a few years, I will add the social security check, which I have also worked for, and paid into, for years.

All that is required to negate everything is to be on the losing end of a lawsuit. Everything could be attached, leaving nothing.

The point, as elusive for you as it may be, is not everyone you label as bums and the dregs of society is there because they mishandled their life.

The fictional character "Earl" espouses being tolerant of others, so as not to upset Karma, thereby causing misfortune to befall him.

Like Earl, I suspect Jugs will one day find himself sitting on the street corner begging for quarters.

That would be a truly Karmic turn of events.

By: avoidbelmont on 11/10/12 at 12:55

The Key Alliance was given a solution years ago by one volunteer who championed housing the homeless in a way that worked for everyone. Those options were ignored by the Key Alliance because it was a SOLUTION that actually solves the problem. Key Alliance is using/exploiting the homeless population for gov dollars. Steve Reiter is exactly right. The Alliance has been overpromising and underdelivering for quite some time. The Key Alliance and all other "non-profits" that are supposed to be helping the homeless need to be reminded that we are not talking about 100 people here. There are thousands who just might, one day, decide they are fed up with the situation, especially now that the gen public is less able to help in this economy, that there will begin to be mob-like reactions (meaning masses, not Mafia) to being constantly ignored while charity execs continue about living their decadent lifestyles. I'm not saying enable, just provide working solution.