In the dark
The leadership and officials at the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter seem to be satisfied living on the brink of shutting down and remaining mired in mediocrity.
With funds once again close to exhausted, the shelter’s executive director, the Rev. Clara Lett and more than a dozen of her advocates circled the wagons, shut down questioning of the shelter and strong-armed Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston into backing off his efforts to restructure the shelter’s leadership.
Lett called a meeting Tuesday between herself, her supporters and Johnston, but the meeting played out exactly the way many knew though it would.
Shelter officials and advocates, led by board member Sam Perryman, told Johnston they felt his criticisms were unfair and off base and told the mayor the shelter didn’t have to answer to the city. They also asked him to retract statements that if nothing was done, the shelter would die “a slow death.”
Perryman said the shelter has survived for many years and he’s absolutely right, but for most of the time close to the edge of insolvency and closure.
The only person who came to the mayor’s defense was former mayor Sam Ramsey, who said he asked Johnston to help out a shelter in serious need of donations. Ramsey said he agreed with many of Johnston’s questions, including those about the effectiveness of a board that rarely was able to do business because it lacked a quorum.
While it’s true that the mayor has no authority over the shelter, it’s also clear to many that the shelter is in true need of a leadership change. We don’t understand how the fact can be denied by anyone.
We’ve seen the good the shelter does and how it truly helps people who are victims of bad luck or situations they couldn’t escape. We think the mayor said it right: if we’re going to have a shelter, let’s make it the best one in the state.
Allow the shelter to be run by true professionals — multiple of whom have volunteered to do the job for free — and allow Lett to remain the day-to-day manager. She has an incredibly tough job; no one is arguing that, but if she can’t see that she can’t effectively run a shelter and be willing to seek expert help, then we’re dubious as to how much longer it can stay open.
Allow for an outside audit of the finances, policies and procedures. In our experience, there’s little reason for public or nonprofit entities to refuse to let the light shine on their operations and books. That attitude always makes us nervous, and this isn’t the first time the shelter has stonewalled attempts to examine its records.
Finally, the board of directors needs to examine its role and become engaged. It needs to carry out its promise to reorganize itself and get the shelter on sound footing, but we’ll believe that when we see it.
At night, the parking lot of the shelter is one of the darkest places in Newton County. One has to be incredibly cautious as they drive away, navigating a world of children playing and adults simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. Given current management’s closed and secretive approach and the board’s abdication of its leadership responsibility, it’s no wonder we’re all in the dark about where to go. Wouldn’t a little light help solve many of the problems that plague this situation?