Q&A: Cindy Kelley, Executive Director of the Homelessness Authority
The Chatham-Savannah Homeless Authority is seeking a new executive director after Cindy Kelley informed the agency’s board last year of her intention to retire. Kelley has served as the authority’s executive director since January 2014. Her term runs until Dec. 31, and the board expects her replacement to be hired when she retires, according to President Julian Miller.
Kelley agreed to answer a few questions I recently emailed her regarding her time leading the organization. Below are the questions and its answers as submitted on September 28, 2021.
When did you send your review? I gave my opinion to the SCF Board of Directors in mid-2020. This allowed the board and the organization to effectively plan for the transition and to thoroughly search for a new leader.
Why did you decide to retire? I have been leading non-profit organizations since 1996 (CSAH is the 5th organization that I have supported as CEO). This work takes a lot of energy and commitment to do well. It seems to me to maintain this required energy for 5-7 years and then I recognize that it is time to move on. This time around, I will retire and subsequently, I will seek to share my expertise through advice and coaching… not to earn a living but to make a difference. I think leadership transition is important for organizations (allows for new ideas and any changes needed). Each of us has strengths and weaknesses / less interest. The hope is that whenever a transition occurs, the nonprofit board of directors selects a just “correct” leader for the organizational stage of the organization. My departure from the CSAH is slightly delayed due to the requirements of the Covid and the Homeless Continuum of Care (COC) as well as the closing of the fundraising campaign of the Cove in Dundee (Tiny House Project).
What type of impact, of challenges has the pandemic presented to the organization and to the homeless population? The major impact for the SCF is that no work has been reduced because of the Covid. On the contrary, the CSAH team had to deliver many new activities due to Covid and yet operate to meet all of our current contact requirements. And of course, that double layer of work meant supporting our team of staff working in a fragile medical environment. Our team more than met this daily challenge. At the start of the Covid epidemic, our DFCS offices were closed, threatening our ability to serve the homeless population. To solve this problem, we set up a tent in our parking lot and provided services outside the tent until we could use a small conference room in the DFCS building. Difficult times require creative methods to maintain efficient services.
I believe one of your main changes with the organization was the transition to a Housing First policy, which resulted in the construction of the first phase of the Cove at Dundee community. How do you think this policy plays out and what kind of impact do you think it has and will have on the homeless population of Savannah? In fact, Housing First best practice was / is a mandate from HUD. As CSAH is the HUD collaborative candidate for our Continuum of Care, our job was to bring in the Chatham Area CoC to ensure our community embraces and applies Housing First practices. Quite simply, housing puts an end to homelessness. As the community conversation shifted from homelessness to the critical shortage of affordable housing, new community energy and ideas for solutions were applied to the conversation. The need for very low rent housing ($ 300 to $ 500) is now part of the conversation and hopefully commitments to develop this type of housing will arise among nonprofit service providers and local government. . We hoped that the mini-house project would serve as a model of low-rental housing for the homeless. Indeed, three other mini-house projects for the homeless in Georgia are underway, directly as a result of our work.
What other initiatives is the Homeless Authority developing to fight homelessness? The Chatham Doorways, Streets to Stability and PATH program, for example. Like all non-profit organizations, CSAH grows and evolves over time. As HUD urged our CoC to try again to develop a separate board (now in place), our organization and its board had strategic discussions and planning to determine the best ways to fulfill the mission. and move forward into the future. The result has been a division of our operations to clarify both sides of our work. And, it is possible that the future will bring a split of the two divisions if it works best to make both parties stronger and more successful.
Division 1 of the SCF is on the side of the collaborative requestor. This division is driven by HUD contracts and related requirements. This includes the annual NOFO, the coordinated entry, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), working in partnership with the CoC Board of Directors and service providers and, finally, the monitoring of homelessness. other HUD requirements that arise along the way. The collaborative requester side of SCF also includes a new program called Streets to Stability. Streets to Stability tackles begging and the collection / distribution of goods needed by the homeless population and service provider agencies.
Division 2 of CSAH is Chatham Doorways. It’s the entrepreneurial side of CSAH with a strong focus on solving homelessness one person at a time through creative housing options. These include our current housing programs (Cove at Dundee, City 54) as well as Street Outreach (PATH), a program offered by CSAH for many years, and a developing program called Horizon Homes where we buy and let’s rehabilitate one house at a time and make it available to a homeless person at a very low rent ($ 300- $ 500 per month). The CSAH board has discussed the possibility of a split on the Chatham Doorways side of CSAH in the future if finances allow.
How would you describe the overall impact of your organization over your years as CEO? I think our organization has helped our CoC keep our heads above water. We are the grassroots organization that helps the community understand the many, many administrative demands (mostly rules and regulations) placed on us by major funders such as HUD and the State of Georgia. It’s not always fun or easy to be bound by the rules and insist that others follow the rules imposed on us, but it’s our job! I think our biggest success during my tenure is the change in community conversation that has happened through our work. In the past, the community conversation was always “what are we going to do about the homeless?” Today, the community conversation is “how can we build more affordable housing for those in need?” »This is success !!
What would you say to critics who say not enough has been done to reduce the homeless population in Savannah? I would say they are absolutely right. The main way to reduce homelessness is to accept that much more affordable housing is needed across Chatham County and create a policy that invests in it. Period.
What advice would you give the new CEO when he arrives? Understand the uniqueness of the culture here. Don’t take the stab in the back personally. Eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep!
Please add anything you would like to mention for the story. I will miss the staff of the SCF, the members of the board of directors and a number of my colleagues. Thanks to those who have been nice to me.
This story available through an information partnership with Savannah Agenda, an information website dedicated to promoting community engagement.