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One Name. Identical Mission. There's a CATCH. In Fact, There Are Two

What's the difference between CATCH and CATCH Inc.?

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One year ago, when Greg Morris, director of CATCH, an acronym for Charitable Assistance for Community's Homeless, was asked to resign from the highly successful City of Boise program, no one would say anything on the record.

"I really can't talk about it," said Adam Park, Mayor Dave Bieter's communications director in November 2011.

"It's related to a personnel action," said Bruce Chatterton, then-planning and development director for the city.

But for the five years prior, the city couldn't say enough about CATCH. The program established its own office on River Street, produced radio and television public service announcements, and trumpeted regional and national awards for the innovative program, which provides long-term housing to homeless families, boasting an 85 percent to 90 percent success rate.

But now, an organization calling itself CATCH Inc. is about to swing open the doors of a new headquarters on Americana Boulevard, promising to serve as many as 20 homeless families in Ada and Canyon counties at any given time.

However both programs--the City of Boise's CATCH and the nonprofit CATCH Inc.--are both serving the same population with only nuanced differences.

"I don't know if there is a difference. Come to think of it, there isn't a difference," said CATCH Inc. board member Ross Mason. "CATCH Inc. does what CATCH always did. It helps the homeless. The fact that we have an 'Inc.' at the end of our name is for a nonprofit designation and nothing more."

City officials said Mason was right, to a point.

"Yes, the services are very similar, but to say they're the same program isn't correct," said Park. "We have different staff, and we're serving different families. But we're both doing similar work."

Mason was quick to add that much of last year's drama,which played out behind closed doors between CATCH and CATCH Inc., was what he called "behind-the-scenes minutia."

In addition to being a board member for CATCH Inc., Mason is also regional director of Southwest Idaho's 10 counties for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. And when Morris was ready to help create CATCH Inc. to include services to the homeless beyond Boise's borders, Mason said his department couldn't have been happier.

"Dick Armstrong"--director of Idaho Department of Health and Welfare--"loves this program," said Mason. "When I asked his administrative assistant if he would speak at our grand opening"--on Thursday, Oct. 4--"she said 'yes' without even looking at his schedule."

And as for plans for expansion, CATCH Inc. has already opened the doors for a Canyon County office with additional satellite locations in the pipeline.

"We would love to have CATCH Inc. statewide," said Mason. "Twin Falls is the next logical place, and now it's on the horizon."

But first, Morris said it was important to make CATCH Inc. a nonprofit.

"Let's be honest, donors prefer to give to a 501(c)3," said Morris. "We needed to augment, and we needed to be able to write grants. We tried being a nonprofit while still operating as a city program for a year, but we got to a place ...." Morris paused. "We got to a place where it became uncomfortable."

But Morris quickly smiled.

"And here we are," he said pointing to a 4,000-square-foot warehouse recently refurbished into office space for counseling adults while children have fun in a nearby play room. The building also includes ample storage space for furniture and supplies, which families will be able to access when they're ready for a fresh start.

But the City of Boise is far from closing the doors of its own CATCH program. In fact, city officials told Boise Weekly that $165,000 in general funds are earmarked for Fiscal Year 2013 to fund the city's CATCH, with plans to continue accepting homeless families into the program for the foreseeable future.

"We're continuing to accept applications. As a matter of fact, we're placing a seventh family into our program this coming week," said Beth Geagan, who was brought on board by the city in April to run its CATCH program. "We're going to manage this as effectively and efficiently as possible and serve as many families as we can."

Long before Geagan took over Boise's CATCH program, Beck Fenton worked as a case manager for CATCH, assisting more than 80 homeless families. But she has since been recruited by Morris to leave the city and join his new team at CATCH Inc.

"I have the best job in the world," said Fenton, who is fond of handing out business cards that entitle the receiver to a free hug. "When I meet the families, they're already in a shelter. I help them find housing and help them get a job or, quite often, a better job."

Fenton said it is a common misconception that all homeless adults are unemployed.

"Many of them have jobs, but they still have countless obstacles keeping them from getting housing," she said. "When they're in a survival situation, they don't want to acknowledge any of the pressures. So I teach them to take the blinders off."

Morris said the program's success rate is tangible.

"We consider any family that can pay its own rent after six months in our program a success," said Morris. "We consistently experience an 85 to 90 percent success rate."

In the shadow of what Morris called "the great recession," he said the need has never been greater.

"We've seen a lot of first-time homeless families that have never been on any support system before," he said.

Bruce MacMahon, director of accounting for Idaho Power and board president of CATCH Inc., said the new program, operating separate offices in Ada and Canyon counties, has secured solid donations and grants to grow the program further.

"The annual size of our organization for 2013 will be close to $600,000," he said. "That should be enough for us to serve as many as 20 families in Ada and Canyon counties at any given time."

But Teresa McLeod, assistant to Mayor Dave Bieter who works extensively on the city's homeless initiatives, was more cautious about CATCH Inc.'s potential growth.

"If they can scale up to that degree, that's wonderful. But that's doesn't prove financial sustainability," said McLeod. "For instance, we know that CATCH Inc. has a mortgage now that they didn't have previously."

McLeod said the City of Boise had no plans to scale back CATCH, simply because there is a CATCH Inc.

"Until we're confident that there is one or more nonprofits with the self-sufficiency to operate this program, we'll continue to steward it under the city banner," said McLeod. "Our biggest concern would be to pass this off to an organization that maybe has the heart to serve these families but doesn't have the financial track record to sustain the program in the long run."

But CATCH Inc.'s immediate financial outlook looks pretty strong, according to Mason, who told BW that state and federal dollars, through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, will soon begin a direct pipeline of cash into the nonprofit.

"I can't stress enough how important CATCH Inc. is to the Department of Health and Welfare," said Mason. "And the department reflects that by providing the TANF funding. This is money to be used to help families help themselves, and this program fits that idea to a 'T.' It supports them temporarily until they get back on their feet."

Boise City Council Member TJ Thomson looks at the city's version of CATCH as something that won't be around forever.

"I see [the current situation with two programs] as a transition and I think, not too far from now, there will just be CATCH Inc.," said Thomson. "I think the reason that CATCH needs to stay in the city's budget is that we're currently serving [six] families through the program, and we don't want to put them out in the cold. I really don't foresee the city keeping CATCH."

In addition to $165,000 in taxpayer dollars for the city's CATCH, Thomson pointed to more than $1 million inside the city's FY 2013 budget supporting homeless services, ranging from $225,715 in community block grant programs for organizations such as Terry Reilly Health Services and the Women's and Children's Alliance to $240,000 for Allumbaugh House, a detox and mental health provider.

"We can't take the weakest of our population and push them down," said Thomson. "This isn't a statutory requirement; addressing homelessness is a moral obligation of city government."

Thomson said the recent incarnation of CATCH Inc. made perfect sense.

"They wanted to take it to a nonprofit level with all good intentions," said Thomson. "The mission is exactly the same."

And while the city's CATCH may indeed share a similar mission with CATCH Inc. more than a few city hall officials will be keeping a close eye on the new entity with a familiar name.

"We're always thrilled to see a nonprofit rise in the community to provide a housing-first model that we've been using for some time," said Park. "We wish them the best and hope that they're successful. We know the need is out there."

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