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United Way cuts wide and deep

A record number of people in Mecklenburg County are requesting emergency food, shelter and rental assistance. And the nonprofits that offer those services are struggling to keep up in the face of severe funding shortages. Today United Way of Central Carolinas announced an overall cut of 35 percent in funding to agencies it supports. WFAE's Julie Rose has more. The United Way says it gave top priority to programs that meet critical needs brought on by the economic downturn. As a result, Salvation Army's Center of Hope shelter is the only program to receive more funding than it got last year. Still Major Todd Hawks says the 4 percent funding increase isn't enough to keep pace with the 22 percent increase in homeless women and children coming to the shelter. "What it does do is we don't have to dismantle any of the current infrastructure," says Hawks. "So that's the good news." The bad news is the Boys and Girls Clubs operated by the Salvation Army had their United Way funding cut 45 percent. That's $310,000. "So some of the scenarios we've had to look at is if the support doesn't come in from the community to help offset some of that decrease, we will have to look at closure of some of our Boys and Girls Clubs," says Hawks. The United Way began warning of the cuts when its fundraising efforts fell $15 million short in the fall. But the worst-case scenarios never included cuts as high as 70 percent, which turned out to be the case for some programs that don't fall into the "critical needs" category. However, most of the funding cuts announced today are in the range of 20 and 30 percent. The problem is that many agencies on United Way's funding roster are interdependent. For example, United Family Services operates a shelter for battered women. Its United Way grant was cut 35 percent. But Executive Director Mark Pierman says the shelter refers those women to a host of other nonprofits on United Way's roster for help with rent, counseling, substance abuse treatment and many other services to get them back on their feet. So the impact is compounded. "If their funding is cut and they're not able to serve as many people then it's going to be more difficult for us for these people in the community," says Pierman. "If we can't move people out of the shelter, then you're backing up the system." Already, Pierman says the community-wide funding crisis is causing women to stay in the domestic violence shelter eight days longer than they were last year. A similar pressure is at work in all of Charlotte's homeless shelters. Meanwhile, waiting lists for all essential services in the region grow longer by the day. Editor's Note: WFAE has joined other media outlets to help find solutions to the crisis facing the area's charities, and the people they serve. Visit charlottemissionpossible.org to access stories on the crisis. You can also go to this site to find a charity to support. Over the coming months, the Charlotte: Mission Possible effort will be seeking your input to help charities overcome their challenges.