Local non-profit waits as Chattanooga budget decided - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local non-profit waits as Chattanooga budget decided

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - A few weeks remain before the city’s budget becomes finalized.
 
In the meantime, funding for an organization that reaches young men connected to the city’s violence hangs in the balance.
 
A Better Tomorrow, a local non-profit that helps provide life skills to at-risk youth, has served as the gatekeeper for services to the 25 young men selected in the first round of Chattanooga’s Violence Reduction Initiative.
 
However, without city funds, Richard Bennett, CEO for the non-profit, said he won’t have the resources to help the young men ranging between 19 to 26 years of age.
 
The city promised to help fund the organization due to the added case load, Bennett said.
 
Bennett originally submitted a funding request along with approximately 50 private non-profits. His request did not score high enough to receive funding, officials said.
 
At the March 20 call-in, A Better Tomorrow’s phone number was given to each of the young men who attended.
 
Then a couple of weeks later, the city put out a bid seeking case management and support services for participants in the initiative.
 
Bennett, who began his non-profit 16 years ago, was the only non-profit to submit a proposal. He’s asked for $329,100 in funds as part of a one year contract. The final figure will be negotiated, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said in an interview on Friday.
 
The contracted services, if approved in a separate vote by city council, will come out of VRI designated funds in Chattanooga police’s proposed budget.
 
“Our goal is to get those services provided. A Better Tomorrow has been doing that and we certainly appreciate that, what they’ve done for that,” Berke said.
 
Since the meeting and media coverage of VRI, the non-profit’s phone has been ringing from early hours of the morning to late at night.
 
Staff members take turns answering a cell phone 24 hours a day should someone from the call-in reach out.
 
Bennett and his staff reach back.
 
"We had to give one $300 for child support, we had to give him something to eat and then we documented those dollars that we're giving him and a lot of those dollars had to be given in cash sometimes because they don't have bank
accounts,” he said.
 
Bennett said his organization has been in contact with all of the 25 men either by phone or in face- to-face meetings. Another 20 people who have personal ties to those men have also reached out to Bennett for help.
 
Jobs, cars, housing and child support are the most common top needs, in that order.
 
So far, 11 of the men from the call-in have jobs. Two plan to apply for a GED program at Chattanooga State Community College.                                                                
 
Bennett said he won’t be able to continue to help the young men without city funding. He’s confident that council members will approve the request though.
 
“We’re doing it now. We’ve been doing it since March without any resources because of our commitment to Mayor Berke and our commitment to Chattanooga is absolute,” Bennett said. “We’ve been committed since day one when we
started this organization.”
 
And the young men keep calling.
 
So do others.
 
Bennett says many of the phone calls come from people outside of the initiative. There are more needs than resources to give.
 
“We have over 600 phone calls now and a lot of those phone calls were from moms talking to my wife or our administrator and they just say, ‘Can't you just do something?’" Bennett said.
 
In many cases they have had to refer people to other services because of the high volume of calls.
 
Berke said he knows about the need. That’s the reason why public safety is 47 percent of the city’s proposed budget.
 
“In every neighborhood, no matter what your race, no matter what your income, people tell me that the number one issue is public safety,” he said.
 
Even for those who don’t live in high crime neighborhoods, Bennett says they should care.
 
“If you believe that it’s not going to come to your neighborhood, then you’re sadly mistaken. The best thing we can do is intervention,” Bennett said. “You deal with it directly and you need resources to make that happen.”
 
A budget hearing was held Tuesday. The next hearing is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 10. City council members will hold the first vote on the proposed budget June 17.
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