Friends in the Desert Foundation, Inc. Program Evaluation
This report presents an evaluation of the Friends in the Desert, Foundation Incorporated (FID), a sit-down feeding program in downtown Henderson, Nevada. The evaluation identified both strengths of the program and opportunities for growth. Major components of this report are presented in the following order: scope of work, research design, findings, recommendations, conclusions and limitations. The report recommendations provide the agency’s members and principal stakeholder groups with proposals designed to improve the program’s financial position and long-term viability. These recommendations focus on opportunities for restructure, growth, and uninterrupted success.
FID is a sit-down feeding program located at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Henderson, Nevada. The agency’s main purpose is to feed those in need and to offer additional services based on availability of resources. Other services provided include health and wellness checks, pro-bono legal services, the provision of clothing items and toiletries, and bus passes for use to travel to specific appointments such as doctor visits.
The need for this program evaluation was identified at both the regional and program levels. Regionally, there are many issues associated with feeding the homeless, especially if not done in a controlled setting. These issues include: a potentially dangerous environment; safety of the people distributing the food; increase in trash, litter, pests/bugs, spread of disease, defecation/urination; congregation in public areas and parks; numerous complaints from members of the community; loitering and panhandling, and a variety of other issues.
At the program level, FID had a number of questions to address and challenges that they hoped to obtain more information about or find solutions for. FID wanted to find out more about their client demographics and to obtain recommendations from an outside party regarding ways to improve the agency’s current financial situation.
Research methods used in this study were both qualitative and quantitative in nature and selected in accordance with the type of data being collected and analyzed. Information was obtained through multiple channels including: program document review; benchmark study; client survey; City of Las Vegas homeless summit attendance; and conducting multiple phone interviews with government agencies. The following research questions were then developed:
1. Who is using the program?
2. Does program attendance fluctuate? If so, why?
3. How many clients want or need additional services?
4. How can the feeding model be improved?
Major findings were split into sections according to the methodology: program review findings, benchmark findings, survey findings, and Homeless Summit findings. A positive correlation was found when historic program data was analyzed in comparison to Bureau of Labor Statistics for the same years. When the unemployment rate dropped, the number of clients served meals also dropped, and during years of the recession when unemployment rates surged, FID meal attendance also grew. Survey findings closely resembled those of the 2013 Southern Nevada Homeless Census. 70% of the clients utilizing the program are currently homeless, and the majority of program participants are white males. The largest distribution of users is between the ages of 51 to 60, and 35% are attending meal services 5-6 days per week. 89% of the clients reported that they are unemployed, and 31% reported that they currently live on the “streets.” Benchmark findings showed that all three charities examined were receiving some sort of grant funding (local/state/federal) and all have a business plan and a written set of documents relating to operation policies and procedures. At the Homeless Summit, it was made clear that the principal summit objective was to increase collaboration amongst local government and faith-based organizations that provide homeless support programs and services. The “It takes a village” concept was used to illustrate the need for increased partnership, collaboration, and communication amongst all agencies. Organizations were encouraged to partner with other organizations like FID who are already offering meal services in controlled settings.
The project team developed four principal recommendations:
1. Increase inter-agency collaboration and partnership
2. Develop a comprehensive business plan
3. Apply for grant funding
4. Utilize the survey tool to improve strategic decision making, increase interagency
partnership, and secure additional funding
By collaborating, agencies can maximize effectiveness and decrease the incidences of duplication of programs and services. The coordination of community services is imperative to achieving the regional goal. In maintaining working relationships with similar organizations in the valley, FID will gain the opportunity to learn about other programs and services; share best practices; learn how government partnerships can improve their program; and expand their volunteer base. The development and implementation of a business plan is needed in order to underpin program operations; improve record keeping; secure funding; and enhance the overall efficiency of program. Applying for grants will stabilize funding streams, which increases the possibility of adding to existing programs and services. Finally, utilizing and expanding the survey tool for future research can provide data used to demonstrate the programs’ measurable outputs. The results of the survey can be instrumental in performing a gap analysis, which would compare current programs and services against those that are critically needed.