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San Diego Nonprofits Go to Work for the Government

Dozens of San Diego nonprofits have secured government contracts and freelance gigs, from animal control services to water-quality testing.

San Diego nonprofits aren’t just serving causes. Many also work for the government.

Dozens of San Diego nonprofits hold contracts with city, county and state entities, sometimes taking on gigs you’d expect government workers to perform. In other cases, local nonprofits pick up tasks local agencies aren’t equipped to handle on their own.

I pulled some local examples that offer a window into the work and the taxpayer money often being exchanged to make it happen.

Animal Control

A handful of North County cities farm out their animal control and shelter duties. Escondido, Oceanside, Poway, San Marcos and Vista have collectively inked contracts with the Humane Society that total about $3 million annually.

The contracts require the Humane Society to assist with stray or injured animals and respond to bite incidents or reports of neglect. The nonprofit also handles licensing in the five cities.

The amount the Humane Society takes in for those services has previously come under fire. Four years ago, Oceanside officials were public about their search for less expensive options. They ultimately stuck with the Humane Society and approved a contract worth more than $820,000 annually in 2013.

But Katherine Shenar, the nonprofit’s chief of staff, told me the Humane Society contracts don’t cover the cost of providing all the services the group offers.

For example, Shenar said, the Humane Society often holds stray animals longer than the five days mandated under federal law and operates a 24-hour kitten nursery for orphans that are just days or weeks old.

“The contracts do not even begin to cover the expenses associated with that,” Shenar said.

Mental Health Help

Police throughout San Diego County have a nonprofit resource to call on when they encounter emergencies involving people in the midst of mental health crises.

Thirty-three two-person teams consisting of a licensed mental health clinician and a specially trained deputy or police officer – known as Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams – respond to help calm the person and direct them to services.

The nonprofit Community Research Foundation supplies the clinician and mental-health training for both PERT team officers and others. The group is set to receive about $4.3 million from the county this year.

The county upped its contract with the organization this year to add more PERT teams and training sessions for officers.

The San Diego Police Department, one of several agencies that rely on the service, has said the program both saves officer time and can help people with mental-health issues avoid jail time or a serious injury.

“If your loved one is having a medical emergency and they call their medical provider, the recording is gonna say if this is a medical or psychiatric emergency, please hang up and dial 911,” San Diego police Lt. Debra Farrar said in a July City Council subcommittee presentation about the program.  “Having those PERT trained officers, they’ve learned de-escalation techniques that can calm someone in that agitated state.”

The program has helped police countywide cope with a massive spike in mental-health emergencies, Farrar said.

Water-Quality Testing

The regional Water Quality Control Board is charged with monitoring a slew of waterways throughout San Diego County, including 900 miles of streams and more than 19,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs.

And Jeremy Haas, a manager with the board, acknowledges the water agency has limited time and resources to regularly test those waters.

San Diego Coastkeeper has stepped up with the help of two rounds of state grant funds totaling about $1.2 million.

Each month, trained Coastkeeper volunteers visit nine of the region’s 11 coastal watersheds and take samples. Then they return to the nonprofit’s testing lab to analyze them and load them into a database the nonprofit shares with the state agency once a quarter.

For that reason alone, Haas said, Coastkeeper is an important partner.

A 2011 sewage spill helped drive home the importance of Coastkeeper’s work, said Travis Pritchard, the nonprofit’s interim executive director.

The city and the Water Quality Control Board couldn’t track the resting place of about 1.9 million gallons of sewage that escaped during the 2011 blackout. A couple days later, Pritchard said Coastkeeper volunteers found dead fish and startling bacteria counts in Los Peñasquitos Creek and called local authorities.

Coastkeeper’s discovery helped kick off a crucial clean-up effort, Haas said.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programs

California counties are tasked with providing a host of services to address abuse and addiction to alcohol and drugs.

San Diego County relies on outside providers for help and its three largest contracts are with nonprofits.

Mental Health Services Inc., the McAlister Institute and the Vista Hill Foundation hold a collective $26 million in annual county contracts.

The nonprofits house juveniles and adults in group homes, run recovery and detox centers, handle treatment programs for teenage mothers and more.

Piedad Garcia, a deputy director in the county’s health and human services agency, said the three nonprofits and others help the county serve more than 12,000 patients a year.

“I see the contractors as an extension of the county,” Garcia said.

Jeanne McAlister, a recovering alcoholic who founded the El Cajon-based McAlister Institute, said her nonprofit alone serves about 2,000 patients a month.

Like the Humane Society, McAlister said the county contracts her nonprofit holds – which this year total more than $10 million for alcohol and drug services – don’t cover all the organizations’ costs for serving patients.

The nonprofit charges client fees often based on an individual client’s budget and runs a thrift shop and several fundraisers each year to fill the gap, McAlister said.

The county’s Mental Health Services contracts have been a sore spot in the past. The nonprofit, which is set to receive more than $12 million for its county drug contracts this year, was cited a decade ago for improperly billing the county for services and accused of violating county rules, among other issues.

Before- and After-School Programs

San Diego Unified and other school districts in the county have long offered free before- and after-school programs.

Funding models and the programs have evolved significantly along with budget cutbacks and policy shifts but one thing has remained constant: Local nonprofits are on top of it.

Nine nonprofits hold contracts with San Diego Unified to run the district’s PrimeTime Extended Day program, which has replaced the so-called 6-to-6 initiative once funded collectively by a handful of sources, including the city.

Today state grant funds support all the free programs at 126 San Diego Unified schools and more than 15,500 students are enrolled, said Christiane Trout-McPhee, manager of San Diego Unified’s extended learning department.

She said nonprofits Social Advocates for Youth San Diego, YMCA and Harmonium hold the lion’s share of the contracts and lead programs that include physical activities, homework help and educational presentations.

The district couldn’t immediately provide contract totals but the YMCA of San Diego County said it receives about $7 million annually from the district to run Primetime programs at 54 schools.

But not all the students and parents who are interested in the program have been able to sign up because their schools aren’t eligible for state funding, or the free programs at their schools are full.

As a result, the YMCA and a handful of other nonprofit contractors have agreements with the district to offer similar programs for a fee that the nonprofits collect.

About 4,200 students are now enrolled in those programs, Trout-McPhee said.

Tina Williams, a senior vice president for the YMCA, said the paid programs have been consistently increasing in popularity.

“There is a definite need that exists out in our communities,” Williams said.

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