Nonprofits struggling to provide services, maintain staff

Austin Revocery facility

Nonprofits that provide in-person services that are a lifeline for their clients are struggling to find new ways to deliver those services during the coronavirus crisis, even as the nonprofits’ financial stability is at risk. At the same time, demand for their services is increasing as more people become unemployed, isolated, or ill. 

Laura Sovine, executive director of Austin Recovery, a nonprofit addiction treatment center, spent the past week struggling to balance the needs of its clients with the need to keep operations running. “It’s a time of crisis,” said Sovine, “so we’re having to look at things differently.” Austin Recovery counselors are finding ways to hold meetings and appointments online while Sovine has joined other health care nonprofits in advocating for flexibility in privacy and reimbursement policies for online services. 

She also said that while she doesn’t have data yet, her staff have reported an increase in calls. “Isolation feeds addiction,” said Sovine, “as well as other mental health disorders that wrap themselves up in addiction. I think we’re about to see a lot of unemployed people facing an economic crisis, and all of those are risk factors for increased use.” 

William Buster, executive vice president of community investments of St. David’s Foundation, says the crisis is going to highlight just how critical social support services like addiction recovery are. “Folks will begin to realize that many of the services that these organizations provide run under the radar.” said Buster, “and it’s only at times like this, if those services begin to break down, that you’ll begin to see an impact on the community.” Those types of services can include health care, shelter from abuse and neglect, counseling, basic needs, senior services, and child care. 

Nonprofits that typically provide childcare, including after-school care and camps, find themselves on hiatus until policies change and schools resume. For many students, that care was a lifeline, says Karen LaShelle, executive director of Creative Action. “It’s a dark time,” said LaShelle, “it’s easy to feel bleak when you’re a young person living through this time with no contact to your friends and community.” While LaShelle is concerned for the students Creative Action serves, she’s also concerned for her staff and the long-term viability of her organization. Right now, she’s vowed to continue to pay her staff but wonders how the current climate will affect her operating budget going forward. 

The impacts of the virus are hitting front-line nonprofits in a number of ways. It’s forcing them to change the way they provide services, hoping that policies and technology will catch up. And, like other small businesses, it’s threatening their ability to keep the doors open. Spring fundraising events, as well as food and blood drives and most volunteering events, have been cancelled. And nonprofit staff may start to drop out as they face their own challenges with illness and childcare. “That’s like a train coming down the tracks,” said Buster, “and it’s only going to get worse.” 

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