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Center runs out of cash

A long-standing Fargo program that offers health care and outreach services to low-income and homeless American Indians has run out of money and will close its doors Friday.

James Thomas

A long-standing Fargo program that offers health care and outreach services to low-income and homeless American Indians has run out of money and will close its doors Friday.

Board members of Native American Programs blame its collapse on United Way's decision to discontinue funding, an inability to secure grants because of poor facilities and a lack of financial help from local governments.

"We've never had adequate funding to have full-time staff to run this place," said NAP board member Gus Claymore. "We've always kind of hung on by our shirttails."

A citizens group started NAP in 1987 under the name Good Medicine. It has functioned as Native American Programs since 2000, when Family HealthCare Center became its fiscal agent.

United Way of Cass-Clay's board of directors decided last spring to stop funding NAP on July 1.

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NAP Manager James Thomas said it was a major blow to the nonprofit, whose 2005 budget consisted of $63,706 from United Way and about $3,200 in federal funds.

As a result, the yellow two-story house at 324 7th St. N. closed July 23. It reopened Nov. 11 with $4,000 in federal funds from the city of Fargo, but that money has run out, Thomas said.

United Way's decision to cut funding was abrupt and didn't give NAP a chance to change to meet the agency's expectations, said NAP board member Paul Homan, chairman of modern languages at North Dakota State University.

"Their model and their ways of evaluating need to be more flexible, and I'm sure they could be if they just bothered to understand the complexity of the problem," Homan said. "And the fact that they didn't, that an organization that touts itself as embracing diversity and all this and taking care of all the people in the community doesn't bother to do that, is very disturbing."

Claymore, the multicultural affairs coordinator at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said it seemed United Way reached its decision after a "15-minute spot check" of the house and brief conversations with staff members.

United Way President Scott Crane said the review was more extensive than that, and said volunteers couldn't justify to donors that NAP was a good use of their dollars.

"Truthfully, what we saw the programs as being essentially was a drop-in center, and not much more than that," Crane said.

United Way's past concerns were resolved for a short time but then resurfaced, he said.

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"Putting them on notice yet another time didn't make any sense," Crane said.

The cease-funding notice issued by the United Way last spring cited four main concerns about NAP:

E Limited access to a nurse and low expectations of the health education program.

E A "significant reduction" in the number of internal health encounters compared to previous years.

E Experienced staff couldn't convey information "about the most basic services that clients could be referred to."

E "Extremely low target in program outcomes."

United Way announced in April it planned to reinvest $50,000 into other programs benefiting American Indians. The agency has yet to allocate the money, though Crane said there have been preliminary discussions with an agency that would provide health care coverage and another that would provide shelter.

"We're still committed to doing it, but it's been slower than we thought," he said.

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NAP board members said it was hard to measure outcomes of a program that did so many different things, from making health care and housing referrals to helping someone obtain a birth certificate or new pair of eyeglasses.

A report Thomas prepared as a requirement of federal funding showed NAP served 75 people from Nov. 13 to Dec. 1. The center helped clients apply for housing and financial assistance and conducted a health screening Nov. 28.

"They don't know where to ask (for help), and a lot of people, they're not going to if they don't have a place to go," Thomas said. "It was comfortable for them to come here."

Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates said metro-area cities and counties were solicited for funds to keep NAP going, but only Fargo stepped up. The Ray of Hope drop-in center at 109 9th St. S., of which Native American Christian Ministry is a partner, is offering some of the same services provided by NAP, she said.

City and local American Indian leaders are looking at the long-term need for a comprehensive urban Indian center. Coates said she hopes the city's Native American Commission will explore the resources and services needed for a center.

City staff have talked to Fargo School District officials about possibly using Woodrow Wilson Community High for an urban center when the new south Fargo high school opens, tentatively set for 2011, said Lowell Wolff, assistant to the superintendent.

Coates said officials haven't discussed what to do with the city-owned NAP house, a 101-year-old structure with a total assessed value of $52,000.

Claymore said he's worried about how shuttering the house will affect NAP's credibility. Grant applications have been filed with at least four agencies and foundations to try to revive the programs, board members said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

James Thomas

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