Rogers is tapped for shelter role

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2005

Local businesswoman Karen Rogers has been tapped as the new interim executive director of the Suffolk Shelter for the Homeless.

Rogers, owner of the children’s boutique, Karen’s for Kids, is confident her nearly three decades of retail management experience will help the Finney Avenue shelter weather the storm of controversy that has recently plagued it.

&uot;I’m excited about the shelter’s future,&uot; said Rogers. &uot;We are going to move forward, taking things one step at a time.

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&uot;…The positive work the shelter has always done in the community will continue. Ultimately, we’re going to be better and stronger than we have ever been before.&uot;

The shelter’s string of problems hit the public spotlight in May, when former executive director Terry Miller abruptly resigned. Prior to her departure, Miller had been publicly criticized for her policy of closing the shelter on major holidays.

Weeks after Miller’s departure, the Virginia State Police launched a criminal investigation into alleged embezzlement and mismanagement of money.

After discovering that the shelter had submitted duplicate bills for reimbursement to two different agencies between July 2004 and February 2005, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development withheld its 2006 funding pending its own investigation. The city also withheld its funding to the shelter until changes were made.

Though state audits are ongoing, Rogers is optimistic as she looks into the homeless shelter’s future. After just two weeks on the job, she has already implemented some changes.

&uot;The shelter will now be open 365 days a year,&uot; Rogers said.

The shelter is also planning to reestablish its fundraising relationship with United Way of South Hampton Roads, Rogers said.

Rather than reverse it policy of closing on holidays, the shelter severed its link with the agency last February.

&uot;We have been in discussions but there are procedures we have to go through before it can be done,&uot; she said.

Rogers is exploring ways the shelter can begin generating revenue, such as by opening a daycare service for tenants’ children and a limited number from the community. The service would be provided at a reduce rate to residents deemed eligible.

&uot;We have a great playroom and it’s not being used during the day,&uot; Rogers said. &uot;This will help families in the community with low income and it will also help generate income for the shelter.&uot;

Rogers is also planning to add six beds to the 35-bed facility, a move that would generate an additional $6,600 in government funding.

The shelter is hoping the community will donate two sets of twin bunk beds, a single bed and a crib, she said.

Citizens have always been generous with donations of time, money, food and other items during the shelter’s 15-year history, Rogers said. As the shelter forges into the future, it will continue to rely on the support of the city and its residents.

&uot;We appreciate their support,&uot; Rogers said. &uot;We are hoping they will stand behind us as we reorganize…and reestablish the shelter’s credibility.&uot;

She also anticipates the shelter will develop more partnerships with the city.

The shelter’s board of directors is also looking renaming the facility – Suffolk Home Place.

Over the past few weeks, the

shelter’s 13-member board has worked hard to get the shelter’s internal house in order, Rogers said.

A Franklin auditor is almost finished his independent audit of the books. The shelter has also implemented new fiscal controls and guidelines, similar to those in place at most businesses.

Working side by side with employees, board members have spent countless hours making more visible changes at the shelter.

Furniture has been rearranged.

Common rooms have been painted a fresh pale yellow, light and inviting. Plans are in the works for a fall barbecue fundraiser.

&uot;We are very proactive,&uot; said board member Sandra Hefferon, who volunteers at the shelter several days a week. &uot;We really want to be active and involved in the things that are happening here.

&uot;All of us (on the board) are on call 24 hours a day.&uot;

The board is excited to have Rogers at the shelter’s helm, Hefferon said.

&uot;Her years of management experience will be an asset to us,&uot; she said.

Due to health issues, James Caton, the board’s spokesman in recent months, could not be reached for comment.

At face value, the differences in running

a store and a homeless shelter may appear dramatic. But in the end, Roger said, the success of each boils down to strong management practices.

&uot;The shelter should have always been run like a business,&uot; Rogers said. &uot;In the everyday world of business, you budget your money…and you are accountable for that money.

&uot;…I guarantee that any money allocated to the shelter will only be used for the tenants.&uot;