For the third time in three years, the bilingual mental health center El Futuro will receive no funding from Orange County. The nonprofit, which is based in Carrboro with an office in Chatham County, focuses its care on low-income Latinos, many of whom have never received treatment for serious mental illnesses.
Lucas Smith, El Futuro's director and co-founder, said the setback in funding—the organization had requested $60,000—will force him to cut staff positions and serve fewer patients. The center, which won a 2007 Indy Citizen Award for its work, relies on grants to help treat patients who are more than 200 percent below the poverty line.
"We offer care to keep people out of emergency rooms and out of the police stations and out of domestic violence," Smith says. "We treat problems before they get big. We have less capability to do that [now]."
"I don't think it's the fact that we don't have a good product, or we're not meeting a need," he continues. "It's just how they do business, and they haven't changed their ways yet."
The Orange County Board of Commissioners, struggling to make up a budget shortfall, decided last week to freeze funding at 2007-08 levels for human services agencies that received money from the county in previous years. Against the recommendations of their advisory commission, commissioners denied all funding to groups that didn't already receive county money.
"Even though it's a freeze, they should reapportion the funds based on the recommendations of that committee—maybe not to that extent, maybe a percentage of that," Smith says.
Emily Adams, chair of the county's Human Services Advisory Commission, said she was disappointed the board didn't consider any of her board's recommendations, which would have provided $313,000 more for groups like El Futuro this year. The commission recommended funding six agencies that did not receive county money in 2007-08, and reducing grants to several groups that did.
Facing a "tough year," county Manager Laura Blackmon said the commissioners committed to maintaining the 2007-08 budget. Of Smith's call to apply the advisory commission's recommendations proportionally, Blackmon said, "The simplest thing for them was, across the board, to leave everybody at the same level. [The county] is not adding things for next year. El Futuro would've been a new thing, for lack of a better term."