Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Weekend reads: Journal editor fired for homophobic comments; “three-parent baby� paper mega-correction; the Bette Midler journal club

Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured plagiarism by a priest; retraction of a creationist paper “published … Continue reading Weekend reads: Journal editor fired for homophobic comments; “three-parent baby” paper mega-correction; the Bette Midler journal club

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Navigator: I Love Airports!

It’s 6:47 a.m. on Friday as I write this, and I am more than four hours early for my international flight. (I mixed up the departure time with the arrival time!)

Light from the brightening sky has been pooling into the previously dark waiting area of Dulles International Airport, where I have been sitting, waiting to check in. An Indian family across from me is trying to entertain a fussy toddler. Behind me, an airport employee speaks to someone (a friend? a sister?) on the speakerphone in a mix of West African French and English. From time to time, her walkie-talkie bleeps and stern voices crackle through. In the background, Blondie’s “Heart of Glass� is playing, but because I’m so sleepy, it takes me a few minutes to identify the song.

I love this airport; I’ve come to admire its handsome brutalist slopes and edges; its remoteness from central Washington, D.C.�although inconvenient�makes it seem like I’m already far away. And while the security lines aren’t fun, people watching here always is.

Generally, too, I find airports fascinating�they function as mini-cities, planned with security, commerce, and mobility in mind. But they’re also portals to other worlds�borderlands with their own set of rules. They all reflect the unique aspects of the places they’re in, but they’re also sort of all the same.

According to French anthropologist Marc Augé, airports are places of “solitude and similitude,� where every person who passes through becomes reduced to a role�they’re passengers or pilots before they’re people. But in a blog post for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, author Jenifer Van Vleck disagrees, arguing that an airport is “a deeply social space�and, indeed, an emotionally charged space.�

As I look at the screen to check on the departure time for my flight to India, I realize my love for airports draws from all of these theories. I love the anonymity and time-warping quality of the space; but also enjoy observing human moments that appear particularly stark against the sterility of the place. Most of all, I love the feeling of being in motion. Like Alain de Botton writes in his book, A Week at the Airport, airports offer “promises of alternative lives, to which we might appeal at moments of claustrophobia and stagnation.�

A colorful mock-up of the Mexico City international airport. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

What we’re writing:

Are dog parks… exclusionary? ¤ Why Toledo just gave Lake Erie legal rights. ¤ Finding a writer’s voice in Lagos. ¤ These Parisiens have had it with people who want to Instagram their street. ¤ Pune is turning buses into public bathrooms for women. ¤ Want to fight a pipeline? Live in a tree. ¤

And remember that sampling of public transit textiles I previewed in the last edition of Navigator? CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan has now written a much more comprehensive, global review of public transit fabrics.

What we’re taking in:

//giphy.com/umairanwar/

The feminist history of the tea room. (JSTOR Daily) ¤ “Convinced that becoming skoolies�people who live mobile lives in converted school buses�would afford them freedom and adventure, they sprung for a white 36-foot 1995 Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner for $4,500.� (Curbed) ¤ “I could see how big the city was, that we were a small part of something larger. It comforted me. � (Catapult) ¤ How does one map a myth like Homer’s Odyssey? (Lapham Quarterly) ¤ Solange’s new album is “made in Houston and steeped in its hyper-local culture.� (NPR) ¤ “We honour our concrete just like people honour their trees.� (The Discourse) ¤ How the Census was manipulated. (The Baffler) ¤ Liberty City memorializes lost loved ones on T-shirts. (Topic) ¤ A Norwegian town called “Å.� (Popula) ¤ This Kolkata artist is creating traditional Patachitra art, but with urban scenes from modern India. (Scroll.in) ¤

View from the ground:

@axlaxlaxlaxlaxl strolled by the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco. @yasminedagher highlighted the warm rooftops of Beirut. @ethan.k56 captured the waterfront views in New Orleans. @helloimhelen enjoyed the sunny Houston weather.

Tag us with the hashtag #citylabontheground and we’ll feature it on CityLab’s Instagram page or pull them together for the next edition of Navigator.

I’m off the week after this one so look out for the next edition of Navigator in approximately 4 weeks.

Cheers!

Tanvi

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Nonprofits Can’t Help Homeless People When Cities Pay Them Late

Nonprofits serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers are waiting. The city owes them hundreds of millions of dollars in cost reimbursements, and they’re racking up tens of millions in interest and fees to compensate.

In January, 275 nonprofit representatives sounded the alarm in a letter to the mayor’s office estimating that almost 20 percent of their agencies are technically insolvent, owing in no small part to chronically late payments on city-funded social services contracts. The city charter mandates that the comptroller “register,� i.e. sign off, on a contract, confirming that the city has funds to follow it through. According to data from the city comptroller, in fiscal year 2017 the city registered more than 90 percent of its social services contracts after the contract start date, with an average registration date of 210 days after the start date.

New York City agencies usually begin the services per the date on the contract, trusting that it will be registered. Once registered, a contract’s scheduled payments can be made but many require the nonprofit to submit a monthly reimbursement form detailing expenses. Each of these must be approved and can incur delays.

New York City nonprofits aren’t the only ones struggling. Hilda Polanco, founder and CEO of the nonprofit consultancy, Financial Management Association International, has seen gaps of six months or more from the time nonprofits begin delivering services to the time they finally collect the cash that public agencies committed to pay, particularly in Chicago, where social services providers weathered several months of state funding delays. In San Francisco, the Homeless Emergency Service Providers Association (HESPA)�a coalition of 30 nonprofits operating on the front lines of the homelessness crisis�sees the same six-month gaps in city-funded contracts, which force their agencies to carry hundreds of thousands or more in month-to-month service costs.

As co-chair of HESPA and a senior manager of Larkin Street Youth Services, I have seen and dealt with these problems firsthand. Like many other cities, San Francisco doesn’t have the depth and quality of data that the New York City comptroller’s office provides, to help quantify the effect on local nonprofits. This visibility into a city’s contracting system presents a critical opportunity to amplify the discourse on an issue that poses serious risks not only for nonprofits, but also for the vulnerable communities they serve.

These gaps compromise the financial health of individual nonprofits on a scale that weakens the entire social safety net, including the homeless response system. Nonprofits need a steady flow of cash to provide a steady flow of services to cities’ most vulnerable residents, particularly homeless residents. When public agencies take months to process payments, nonprofits must divert their resources from the strategic priorities of ending homelessness to the tactical priorities of managing cash. They must furlough staff or delay hiring for critically needed services; they must spend within their means, even if that means providing fewer shelter beds so that more people sleep in the streets.

Cities must confront this as a crisis�one that compounds the humanitarian crises, like homelessness, that they contract with nonprofits to solve.

Research from Oliver Wyman and SeaChange Capital Partners shows that nationally nearly one in eight social services nonprofits is technically insolvent, “limping along from payroll to payroll.� For shelter and housing providers, who generally have high fixed costs, the number jumps to one in three. The reason? Financial stressors imposed by government contracts that not only underpay nonprofits, but underpay them late, with additional compliance and overhead costs red-taped on top.

Conceptually, there are two problems in play. The first goes to the amount of money the city is contracted to pay the nonprofit; the second and much more insidious problem is cash flow�the timing of the money out the doors of public agencies and into nonprofit accounts. Even if government contracts paid a sustainable amount�and they don’t�a nonprofit with enough contract revenue for the year will have no cash in hand to pay the bills if payment is slow.

Nonprofits from New York to San Francisco are delivering unpaid services for up to six months or more while they wait for finalized contracts. And that’s only the first step to getting paid. The second step�invoicing for payment�can take an additional 30 to 45 days, depending on the grace period each government agency gives itself for paying nonprofit invoices.

New York City’s homeless services nonprofits may have it the worst. The Department of Homeless Services registered all of its contracts late, most about a year and a half after when services started. To put that in perspective, a nonprofit with a two-year contract may do 75 percent of the work before it sees a dollar in reimbursement. That’s a long time to wait, especially for nonprofits paying not just their own office rents, but also the rents keeping thousands of formerly homeless people in housing.

In New York City, SeaChange calculates a cash flow burden of $675 million for the 1,025 nonprofits with City contracts for social services. This breaks down to $662 million in “negative� cash flow (i.e., nonprofits delivering services faster than they’re being reimbursed) and an additional $13 million in financing costs, like interest and fees. While the negative cash flow is not an “absolute loss��it will be reimbursed eventually�the interest and fees are a non-refundable cost of doing business with the city. And these unnecessary fees end up being diverted to banks and lending institutions rather than providing for the people who need basic necessities like shelter. When money can’t get out the door fast enough to provide shelter and housing, homeless people often can’t get inside.

Emergency housing subsidies are a perfect example: a nonprofit may have a contract that pays for 50 people to sleep inside (at motels, single room occupancy (SRO) hotels, etc.), but if the contract doesn’t pay for several months, then the nonprofit must buy shelter with whatever cash it has on hand. In practice, this could mean that only 10 people get shelter while the other 40 sleep outside�despite the fact that there’s a city contract paying for all 50 people to be inside.

Of course, buildings owned or leased by nonprofits will provide the same number of beds regardless of whether the nonprofit gets paid on time. But in high-rent jurisdictions that rely on rental subsidies to shelter homeless people, cash flow is the lifeblood of the system. Landlords on the open market won’t wait for the rent.

When seemingly routine administrative delays result in more people being homeless on any given night, cities should treat it like a crisis. But officials may be reluctant: Cities already struggling with a homelessness crisis can hardly afford a secondary bureaucratic crisis of the city’s own making.  

In New York City, the solutions are flowing about as slowly as the cash. The de Blasio administration launched a Nonprofit Resiliency Committee when cash-flow problems surfaced in 2016, but officials recently told the City Council that improvements to the contracting system won’t come online until 2020.

SeaChange recommends several fixes, from creating a $150 million fund to finance the smaller contracts (they’re 75 percent of all contracts), to collecting fees from late-paying public agencies and using those to capitalize the fund. Above all, SeaChange notes that nonprofit boards must be “laser-focused on liquidity,� which may mean rejecting “on-mission� contracts with “potentially fatal timing delays.�

Cities should also be laser-focused on liquidity. While solutions could surely include financing mechanisms and other creative workarounds, they should primarily target the system itself�simplifying policies and procedures, eliminating unnecessary layers of administration, and reducing grace periods for paying invoices�rather than enable an unacceptable status quo that deprives nonprofits of operating cash and makes homeless people wait for the services they need today.

Housing is the answer to homelessness; it’s just not the only answer. Housing only works when money can get out the door fast enough to sustain it. City contracting systems should be helping people off the streetsâ€â€�not inadvertently keeping them there.