Film director Tom Shadyac personally funded the Haven and has called it a "house of hope."
Main Street Arena owner Mark Brown has been an open critic of the Haven, which in the past he's referred to as a "warehouse of despair."
file photo by Jen Fariello
News that the Haven homeless day shelter is seeking $45,000 in city funds to help cover next year's operating expenses has sparked dueling emails between outspoken downtown businessman Mark Brown and the Haven's patron saint, blockbuster film director Tom Shadyac.
"The Haven's numbers speak for themselves," writes Main Street Arena owner Brown March 16 in an early morning email to Haven administrators, city councilors, and Shadyac, criticizing the nonprofit for inefficiency in programs and alleging a failure to work with the downtown community.
On all fronts, Brown claims, the day shelter is failing– and he uses statistics to make his case. Using numbers given in a March 16 NBC29 news report, such as an annual operating budget of about $385,000 and 46 jobs found, Brown calculates that the Haven spends nearly $10,000 per job.
He applies similar analysis– appearing to divide the entire monthly budget by each category– to other areas. With 19 Haven guests finding homes, that's a Brown-calculated cost of $23,640 per find. With 24 guests entering substance abuse counseling, that's a Brown-estimated cost of about $18,715 per referral.
"We could send them all to the Betty Ford Clinic for that amount," says Brown.
At the same time, Brown says, since the Haven's opening 14 months ago, police have responded there 140 times– an average of 10 visits per month.
Not so fast, according to Kaki Dimock, Haven executive director, who says there are several problems with Brown's analysis. First, she says, he measured only "transformative outcomes" rather than "respite care," which includes basic services the Haven provides: showers, personal storage space, use of computers, shelter, and food. In addition, Dimock criticizes Brown's use of the entire operating budget to calculate every individual item. And finally, Dimock says, Brown's calculations use total visits– 35,600 in 14 months– rather than the 260 individuals she says the Haven served. Using that figure, the fact that 46 people found jobs– nearly 20 percent– may seem more impressive.
"It's better than a lot of employment placement programs," says Dimock, attributing success to close contact between Haven patrons and volunteers, many of whom provide job-hunting tips about businesses that are hiring and offering assistance in filling out employment applications.
Brown's email also hit a nerve with the shelter's founder, Hollywood-area film director Tom Shadyac, who responded within hours, calling himself "deeply saddened" by the calculus.
"We are missing the greater good of the establishment," writes Shadyac, who shares Dimock's enthusiasm for the Haven's "respite" offerings. "How many people were fed who might not otherwise have been fed?" he asks. "How many people found comfort and warmth who might not otherwise have been able to do so?"
Shadyac– who directed some of Hollywood's most successful comedies including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar, Liar– has in recent years turned to more philosophical pursuits, including living in a trailer and making a soul-searching documentary called I Am. Not to mention spending over $3 million to launch the Haven.
While he agrees that the Haven can improve, there are "statistics beneath the statistics," says Shadyac.
"How many people were greeted with kindness, and looked into the eyes of compassion, who might otherwise have felt marginalized?" asks Shadyac. "How many volunteers and workers have been edified and uplifted by serving their fellow man? And please tell me, while we're calculating numbers, how much money is it worth for a human being to feel loved by another?"
Brown has pointed out that he has shown compassion by hiring Haven visitors at what had been known as the Charlottesville Ice Park. And Brown's email notes that he even offered to donate a night at the Arena for a Haven fundraiser, a declined offer that, he contends, might have helped raise an amount approaching the $45,000 now sought from taxpayers.
This would not be the first time that Haven supporters and Brown have stood on opposite sides of an issue. As reported in the Hook's December 9 cover story, while a Haven board member talked of a Constitutional right to beg, the group was declining a Brown entreaty to curtail the practice by encouraging shoppers to make donations directly to the Haven.
Dimock says the Haven made its request for city money based on the fact that many local nonprofits receive approximately one-third their operating budgets from public funds. Eventually, she says, the Haven aims to receive about $100,000 in public funds, but insists it won't all come from the city.
"Forty-five percent of our people are from Charlottesville," she says, explaining the $45,000 requested from Charlottesville. Since 10 percent hail from Albemarle County, Dimock says, the Haven has asked Albemarle to pitch in $10,000 next year. And in coming years, she hopes outlying counties including Fluvanna will provide their own smaller share.
And she says that just because some of the Haven's services don't immediately yield measurable results in terms of jobs found, or ID cards obtained, doesn't mean they're without value.
"We defend the compassionate and holistic approach," she says, "but it's also a strategy for change."
Shadyac ends his heartfelt missive on a scriptural note: "I am reminded of the admonition of one who saw our interconnection and eternal brotherhood when he said simply, clearly, and directly, 'That which you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.'"
Brown, however, says quoting scripture doesn't convince him of the need for public money.
"I think that the city should be funding programs that have measurable impact," says Brown, "not giving $45,000 to groups that provide smiles."
–Story updated 3:29pm on Thursday, March 17 with quotes from Kaki Dimock.