The Zero Hour

Call him The Body. Call him The Mind. Whatever you do, don't call Ventura to fund your nonprofit.

Other numbers tell the story as well. Of the 82 people who have passed through SEARCH in the last ten years, all but two are now living in their own apartments--a remarkable accomplishment, considering that all clients who enter the program are either homeless, staying with family, or living in collective housing or state hospitals. Moreover, Barnwell says, 43 percent of the graduates have found work following their enrollment (up from 15 percent upon entry in the program). An additional 29 percent went back to school (up from zero).

Dr. Robert J. Gumnit, an epilepsy expert at the Minnesota Comprehensive Epilepsy Program (MINCEP) in St. Louis Park, calls SEARCH "a pioneering program"--the first of its kind the nation, and the only one of its kind in the state. Advances in epilepsy treatment, in conjunction with individually tailored support programs such as SEARCH, Gumnit says, mean that those suffering from epilepsy no longer get automatically "warehoused" in institutions or group homes--a fate that contributes to elevated rates of depression among intractable epileptics. "If you think living in a residential facility is fun, try it for a couple of nights," he suggests. While Gumnit acknowledges that crunching cost-benefit numbers can be tricky, he has little doubt that SEARCH saves the state money in the long run.

That achievement, says the Council of Nonprofits' Avner, is often the case with nonprofits. Some organizations, particularly economic development groups, can easily demonstrate impressive returns on the state's investment, she points out. Still, Avner says, many of the nonprofits that rely heavily on state funding will most likely shut down come the end of the fiscal year--thanks to a state Legislature that appears unwilling to tap the surplus. "The leadership on the Republican side in the House has said, 'We're giving it all back,'" Avner says. "So even Republicans who want to see money restored can't dip into the rebate money."

Anne Barnwell, whose nonprofit serves clients with epilepsy, calls the governor's new budget "pretty grim stuff"
Dawn Villella
Anne Barnwell, whose nonprofit serves clients with epilepsy, calls the governor's new budget "pretty grim stuff"

Within the past few weeks, Sen. Linda Berglin, a DFLer from Minneapolis, has proposed legislation to restore SEARCH's funding. But given the current political atmosphere at the Capitol, Berglin says she's uncertain about the prospects for SEARCH. And she's puzzled by the Ventura administration's posture toward nonprofits, like SEARCH, that aim to decrease reliance on government services. "There's nothing to indicate the rhyme or reason for this," she says.

From her office at Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church, Rev. Nelson echoes that sentiment, though she posits it delicately. "If you want to put people back to work, SEARCH is a program you want to keep. Maybe the governor just has a lack of information," she says. "I'm certainly paying more in taxes this year than I did last year." Looking out into the courtyard steeped in snow, Nelson mentions that she is the only church employee who made it to work today. After all those years of waiting for the call--all those years of being told she couldn't serve as a pastor because she couldn't drive--Nelson arrived at work the old-fashioned way: She walked.

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