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Baltimore's Harbor City Struggles to Attract Donors

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Harbor City Services, a Baltimore charity that employs 135 individuals with addictions and mental illness, has long sustained itself by providing shredding, moving, storage and warehousing services for local business. The 21-year-old group recently began looking for charitable assistance, but has struggled to get funders to help, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported Oct. 16.

John Herron, 61, a former addict, founded Harbor City with the belief that a profit-making business could provide income for people with behavioral-health problems as well as support their recovery. The group now has an annual budget of $2.3 million.

“I do not accept the things I cannot change,” said Herron. “I want to change them.”

One thing Herron would like to change is the reception he has received from local funders like the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which have turned down his requests for support. The Able Foundation says it would guarantee $165,000 in loans to Harbor City, but won't lend the money itself.

Harbor City's involvement in the business world seems to be the crux of the problem: funders worry about the risk that the group could lose their money and are more inclined to support 'pure charities' than those with a business component. “They should be in the risk-taking business and not be risk-averse,” said Herron. “They should be looking for people like me.”

“[Harbor City clients], when they're not working here, are vulnerable to relapse,” Herron added. “I'm looking for a venture philanthropist who can help me define a social return with parameters I can deliver on.” Relapse issues, ironically, help create some of the operational instability that can scare off potential funders.

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