A summit on funding for human services convened on Nov. 3 by the City’s Human Services Committee opened a discussion about ways to streamline the process by which local social service agencies apply for funding from the City. Members of the City’s Mental Health Board and of the Human Services Committee sat on the panel before an audience of about 70 people.

The goal of the evening was to discuss “how to get us [Council members and aldermen who sit on the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Committee] “better organized and more transparent,” said Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus, who chairs the Human Services Committee. At a January meeting, she said, priorities would be discussed.

This meeting resulted from a July 7 Human Services Committee meeting at which Ald. Burrus said she felt the present method of allocating the funding of several social service agencies is “piecemeal.” She said then she thought the Council could make a difference if it took a “much more coordinated approach.”

Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover, who is also past chair of the City’s Mental Health Board, said City funding “supports 7,000 to 8,000 people each year – that’s about 10% of the population. … [We want] to find out from our agencies, ‘Is there a better way to fund services in Evanston?’”

In addition to CDBG and Mental Health Board funds, some social service agencies can apply for federal money channeled through the City, such as Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds and Housing and Urban Development funds, said Sarah Flax, housing grants administrator for the City.

Mental Health Board Funding

The City’s Mental Health Board recommends funding levels for various social service agencies, and the City Council has the ultimate approval of the allocations. Members of the Mental Health Board, who are appointed by the Mayor, serve as liaisons to the various agencies they fund.

The recommended amount for Mental Health Board  funding in the proposed budget for 2015 is $150,000. That figure represents an ever-declining amount of money under the auspices of the Mental Health Board and an increasing amount allotted to the recommendations of City staff, although all recommendations require final approval by City Council.

The Mental Health Board’s funding will be complemented with $884,000 from the new Human Services Fund. Monies from that fund will be used to fund community purchased services (agency funding), crisis intervention services and the Community Action Program. The Community Action Program, formerly funded through the Township, includes the City’s handyman program, the West End Market and veterans’ services.

City money often does not represent a large percentage of an agency’s budget.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said “We need to make a difference with these dollars.”

Ald. Grover said, “We need really meaningful outcome measures.”

Ald. Holmes said she felt that sometimes agencies apply for or receive so little money that “it doesn’t make sense to me. After a while it’s not worth your time to get it.”

Not everyone agreed with that statement, however.

Ald. Grover said, “City, Mental Health Board and CDBG funding is critical to access other funding.”

Sandi Johnson, current chair of the Mental Health Board, said, “I think a successful executive director [of a not-for-profit agency] has to seek private funding and has to seek public funding as well.”

Responses from Agencies

Representatives of most of the agencies that receive City funding attended the summit, and many said they supported some or all of the recommendations.

“Funding in any amount is useful to agencies in the community,” said Cass Wolfe, executive director of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston.”

Ann Rappelt of Child Care Center of Evanston echoed that, saying, “Sometimes that little bit of money that we need [from the City] makes a difference, so we can go to our funders and say, ‘The City supports us.’”

Debbie Bretag, executive director of Housing Options, said, “Efficiency and transparency are important for both sides.” She said she felt it is important for the City to “cap the percentage of an agency’s budget that it will support. That’s the only way we will be sustainable.”

All agencies are in need, and all their staff members see their work as a priority, Jim Huenink, executive director of Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault (CASA), told the RoundTable. “Our philosophy is, ‘If you’re not doing effective work, why do it?’ … [If], during the funding process itself [the agencies would be asked], ‘What is the need? What are the outcomes?’ Maybe that would address some of the City’s concerns.”

Agency directors and representatives also spoke of the need for ongoing collaboration and conversation among themselves, because many of them share clients.

“Our clients are also clients of other organizations,” said Kathy Lyons, executive director of the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy. “Without housing, food [and other supports] our clients would do well in court but not [in life]. Part of this piece has to be ‘How do we serve the whole family, the whole child?’”

Ms. Lyons added that the interconnectedness among social service agencies is “important in Evanston and also in how you prioritize your funding.”

PEER (Prevention Education Evaluation Recovery) Services Executive Director Kate Mahoney said the local area network (LAN) of social service agencies still meets “because we still find value in talking to each other. LANs in many communities folded when the funding disappeared.”

Ms. Lyons said the LAN fits well with the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative, since both are “looking at collective impact.”

Andrea Densham, executive director of Childcare Network of Evanston, said “I think we’re moving in the right direction. … [With these recommendations] we may be able to see better how we work together and how we’re moving the needle.” She said evidence-based data would allow “us to see how we’re doing and how we collaborate with each other. … What Kate [Mahoney] does every day, what Kathy [Lyons] does every day affects every family we teach.”

Ald. Burrus suggested that perhaps applicants for funding should demonstrate partnerships with other agencies.


Among the recommendations from the evening are that the City devise a universal application for funding, that the CDBG Committee and Mental Health Board hear the application appeals together, that the aldermen familiarize themselves with the programs funded, that funding be allocated based on outcomes and that funding be limited to a certain percentage of an agency’s budget.

Ald. Grover said, “Because the City is not in the business of direct services, it’s pretty sure we made a commitment to support these services. We are not backing away from our commitment – it’s part of the safety net that we have committed to.”

The date of the meeting in January at which priorities for funding will be discussed has not been set.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...