Social services agency asks borough for help

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NAUGATUCK — The Human Resource Development Agency (HRD), a private, non-profit social services organization, has assisted borough residents for years at “no administrative charge to the borough,” according to Director Joanna Clisham. But in order to keep the doors open this year, Clisham says HRD needs approximately $20,000 in aid from the borough.

The agency lost a roughly $210,000 grant from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services this year, as the state cut about $2 million in grant funding for mental health and substance abuse services. Clisham said she’s already made layoffs and stretched HRD’s grant-funded budget to its limits.

“That grant we lost was a pretty big one that stayed a lot of the monies we need to run the agency,” Clisham said.

Though $20,000—less than 5 percent of HRD’s approximately $385,000 yearly operating budget—may seem too small a sum to be a deal-breaker, Clisham said most of the year’s revenue is already spoken for, as grants are generally disbursed for a specific purpose.

“When you’re working with grants, you’re working with percentages of everything,” she said. “You always do it that way; you have to do it that way.”

And usage restrictions on grant monies, Clisham said, leave the agency capable of providing referral services and daily busing for the elderly and disabled—but unable to cover administrative costs and even basic utilities on the 575 Rubber Avenue property.

At their meeting last week, Clisham presented her request to the joint boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance, who tabled the decision until January’s meeting, in light of lingering reservations.

First of all, they wondered, would a $20,000 discretionary supplement turn into $25,000 next year and $30,000 the year after that, and so on into perpetuity? After all, that grant money would most likely never come back.

Clisham offered an assurance that there are always grant dollars to be found, and that HRD will “never stop looking for [them].”

Secondly, borough officials asked, if paying the utilities is the real problem for HRD, can it not sell its property and work out of a borough-owned building, where those expenses are already accounted for? The agency employs a small staff, and officials thought some departments might have the space to subsume them.

Clisham doesn’t see a move and co-op provision as being a feasible option. She thinks most borough buildings are already at capacity.

Her feeling seems to be that, as HRD basically picked up the pieces when the Welfare Department was dismantled, the borough should have no problem justifying a payout to ensure the services stay active.

Those services include a daily bus service between Naugatuck and Waterbury, for people in need. Drivers—Democratic Burgess Anthony Campbell among them—bus seniors and the disabled to chemotherapy, dialysis, doctors’ appointments, and so on.

In addition, HRD refers in-need clients to other social services programs and acts as an intermediary for clothing, food, and toy drives.

“You have to be here to understand that it’s not good,” Clisham said of the situations some of her clients face. “I don’t think people understand how bad it is … but what we do is important, and we do it because it’s the right thing to do.”