Homeless youth charity can keep grant, commissioners say

The Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth will keep all $214,000 of its county grant funds, the County Commission concluded Tuesday.

The decision came about after half of that funding was being considered for a proposed summer swim program for low-income families. Charity officials said the loss of the funding would devastate the nonprofit's services.

As the embattled nonprofit distances itself from co-founder and former Executive Director Kathleen Vermillion, who left amid allegations she misused the group's money, some charity workers have said they felt the proposal was punishment for the alleged actions of previous leadership. And now charity finances are under investigation as a result.

John Simmons, vice chairman of the charity's board, thanked commissioners for their patience and support.

"We have never thought that this was in a mean-spirited way toward the agency," Simmons said. "We cannot fix what happened in the past, but we can certainly fix it going forward. And that's what we plan on doing."

During the discussion, commissioners brought up their concerns about how requests to use outside agency grant dollars, which come from the county's general fund, are examined. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who sponsored the swim program proposal, asked the head of the charity's board to review the grant request because it was identical to what was submitted the previous year. She and other commissioners were concerned about how the money was handled.

Giunchigliani said she reviewed requests from 11 agencies on the agenda that were awarded similar funding and found at least six that used the "exact same verbiage and numbers and goals."

"To me, that's offensive," Giunchigliani said. "You're not proving what you're doing. You're just asking us for money. A majority of that goes to salaries, not to actual programming. That's the balancing act we have."

As grant dollars become more scarce, competition among groups is intensifying, so the requests should be scrutinized more and based on collaborative efforts, she said.

Giunchigliani said the homeless youth charity has received double the amount of money since 2008 while caseloads have declined.

"That called into my mind questions and legitimately so," she said. "Never at any point did we try to just raid one group for another."

About 300 youngsters take advantage of the charity's resources, which offers youth ages 12 to 18 living on the street access to food, clothes, showers, health care, counseling, tutors and an independent living program.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who co-sponsored the swim program proposal, said there was never any intention of hurting the organization.

"All of this personal stuff, at the end of the day, has nothing to do with the kids who come there, and it has nothing to do with any of us here," Weekly said. "What I'm mainly concerned about is that you guys are doing what you're supposed to be doing with your dollars, and that they're being spent and not tied up in bureaucracy and red tape."

Weekly defended Vermillion's work in forming the charity, which has helped many homeless youth rebound in life.

A county audit performed in January found that funding provided by the county to the nonprofit was not subject to financial mismanagement under Vermillion's leadership. That audit focused on reviewing county funds, not funds provided by other community partners or private donors. The charity has hired its own forensic auditor and is conducting its own separate internal audit. The results of those audits will be made public.

The commission voted 6-0 to approve the funding. Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who is Vermillion's ex-boyfriend and one of the nonprofit's largest donors, abstained.

Vermillion has since dropped a lawsuit alleging Sisolak engaged in an inappropriate relationship with her 15-year-old daughter and released to county employees results of a failed drug test requested by the charity. Sisolak filed a report with the Metropolitan Police Department accusing Vermillion and her former legal team of criminal extortion. Police are still investigating.

The Nevada attorney general and the FBI have their own investigations into the charity. Neither department would confirm or deny such an investigation exists per each department's policy.

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@review journal.com or 702-455-4519.