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A local homeless relief organization reorganizes into a super-agency.

With the state's safety net fraying even as more poor people need help, officials with a local private social service agency hope that a reorganization will allow them to deliver better services and win more grants.

The 21-year-old Primavera Foundation has consistently been considered the area's best fiscally run nonprofit with its operation of three separate agencies: the Primavera Foundation itself, which worked on lobbying and advocacy efforts to benefit the homeless; Primavera Builders, which builds homes for low-income families; and Primavera Services, which runs a men's homeless shelter and five transitional housing complexes, as well as a program to provide jobs for day laborers.

Of Primavera's total income, 91 percent went directly to programs, making it the best local nonprofit, according to a recent report from the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona. It's just the latest praise for the organization, which has been receiving national accolades for being the Cadillac of homeless service agencies since the early 1990s.

But at the start of their July 1 fiscal year, the whole Primavera operation will morph into one organization--Primavera Foundation--creating a single, $5.2 million social service super agency.

"Part of what's neat about the reorganization is I think we've become stronger in clarifying our service delivery, guidelines in the programs and our case management," says Don Chatfield, executive director of Primavera. "So I think we're in a place to provide some better services."

Primavera Foundation, Inc. was founded in 1983 by Nancy Bissell and Gordon Packard to respond to the increasing numbers of homeless people on the streets of Tucson.

But by 1993 Primavera Services and Primavera Builders formally split into two separate corporations of the Primavera Foundation.

"That adjustment was made on advice of legal council having to do with liability," explains Chatfield. "There was a concern that if there was a claim in one of the programs, that it could potentially affect all of Primavera, so there was a decision made to break Primavera into the three corporations."

Now 10 years later the nonprofit is going back to its roots, bringing Services, Builders and the Foundation again, under one umbrella, a change that took the organization's 14 board members more than a year to plan.

"As it turns out it's a return to the history of Primavera," says Chatfield, who notes there are now legal provisions in place that don't require the separation.

The consolidation will change the way Primavera operates, since in the past some nasty rifts surfaced between the separate entities of "Builders" and "Services."

"Since these two separate corporations had formed, there was sometimes different standards for participant conduct--the way discipline was handled--so there were occasions as the two programs interacted that we bumped into these differences," says Chatfield. "One of the positive things about the reorganization is we've been able to bring the two programs together with common case management, so that we have clarified and ironed out those differences between the programs."

The consolidation will also simplify the arduous task of chasing grants and private donations as one organization, rather than separate entities. For opening doors at the larger funding sources, bigger really is better.

"Primavera is offering to take the lead on a major new federal grant that would really pull together a very interesting collaboration of homeless service providers," says Chatfield. "The feds are willing to release $3 million per year for three years if there where collaborations that form in communities that provide more integrated services."

As the leader, Primavera will also receive a grant that delivers $19,000 annually for three years from the state to facilitate the local participating organizations, which include Compass Health Care, Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, La Frontera Center, El Rio Clinic, Comin' Home, the Veterans Administration and the city of Tucson. The new grants should be announced by the end of summer.

Cindy Abril is the chair of the Tucson Planning Council for the Homeless as well as a project coordinator for the city of Tucson.

"The city has a number of contracts with Primavera and they extraordinarily meet their contractual obligations," says Abril, who manages pass-through federal funds to nonprofits. "I've never had any issues with them in either of my roles."

The grants come at a good time. Tucson's homeless is "officially" estimated at 2,800, but Chatfield believes the numbers are closer to 4,000 based on what they've been seeing over the last six months.

"We've been seeing a huge upswing in the numbers of newly homeless," says Chatfield. "We've seen more children coming in with families over the last few months."

But more disturbing, Chatfield says 33 percent of those serviced by Primavera are veterans--some from the first Gulf War. (In a 1998 survey of all of Tucson's 3,200 homeless, 47 percent were vets.) With the close of the current Operation Iraqi Freedom, Primavera may have their work cut out for them.

"Seeing what's happening today, we need to think ahead about what the impact is going to be," says Chatfield. "It's not just over there, there's a social cost here as well."

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