Last year a couple hundred transient homeless individuals and stranded poor took advantage of a program known as Traveler’s Aid. Essentially, it paid for a return trip to their home community or to someplace where support and services awaited. (The program also funds some case management or crisis intervention if needed.)
As of Friday, June 29, the program ended in Louisville.
The Volunteers of America has been running Traveler’s Aid since 2010.(Before that it was housed at Family and Children’s Place.) So why’s it stopping? Funding.
The Metro United Way has traditionally funded Traveler’s Aid at around $90,000. This allowed the VOA to have a dedicated staff person. But this year Metro United Way cut its funding for Traveler’s Aid in half. As a result, VOA decided that they would neither be able to employ someone nor provide for those seeking assistance.
Jennifer Hancock, VOA’s vice president of external relations, says she’s concerned about the loss of the program. Often Traveler’s Aid helped those who found themselves stranded or homeless due to a car breaking down, domestic violence situation, disability, or medical crisis. The VOA learned of the cut in funding in late May but just announced the program’s cancellation.
“The loss is significant to the community because enabling over 300, nearly 400 individuals, to return to their home communities is not only in their best interest but it’s also in the best interest of our community,” says Hancock. “Without the support of a program like this it’s possible that individuals will remain in Louisville accessing shelter services and other homeless services that are already at or exceeding capacity.”
Metro United Way’s vice president of community impact, Maggie Elder, tells LEO that the agency’s decision to cut funding to Traveler’s Aid stems from their work towards refining the number of things they tackle and maximizing their donor dollars.
Metro United Way has prioritized two large, community goals, says Elder. And funds have been diverted toward those goals. The first involves getting all children ready for Kindergarten. The second aspires to ensure all youth graduate from high school on time ready for college or work.
Traveler’s Aid simply doesn’t fit as well into their new streamlined mission.
“None of these decisions are easy and all of the programs have done great work. We’re just trying to get … the biggest bang for our buck which is a hard way to put it but it’s true,” says Elder.
Traveler’s Aid is the only Metro United Way program ending due to new funding allocations.
Elder adds that while VOA has decided to cancel the program as a result of the 50 percent cut in funding, Metro United Way will still hang on to the smaller pot of money in case the return of a Traveler’s Aid-type service is seen as a priority in the future.
At St. John Center, a men’s day shelter in downtown Louisville, the news came as a shock. Executive Director, Maria Price, says Traveler’s Aid is a “common request” among the men who frequent the shelter. She says it’s a shame the program is ending since homeless men and women will likely now go from “church to church and ministry to ministry” in an attempt to scrounge up money for a ticket home.
“It’s putting an extra burden on those already struggling,” says Price.