"One man's clunker is another man's coat," said Ron Marlette, executive director of Mission Solano.
Marlette's concern is that the program, which allows consumers to turn in gas-guzzling older vehicles for cash toward purchasing a new car, could hurt the donation of such vehicles to Mission Solano's charitable car lot on North Texas Street in Fairfield.
Operated by the mission, the lot allows residents to drop off their old cars in exchange for tax benefits. The cars are then sold to provide much-needed funding for the mission's work with the homeless.
Now, the cash offered by the government threatens to dry up donations of cars to the mission, said Marlette.
"It is too early to know how much we will be hurt by the cash-for-clunkers program, but we know we can't compete with the government's checkbook," he said in a press release this week. "Our donations were already down due to the economy, as people are driving their old cars longer or brokering a sale themselves. The cash-for-clunkers program could shut us down."
In fact, Tim LeFever, the mission's spokesperson for the car-donation program, said Friday that donations are down considerably.
"Phone calls are down 40 percent and that's the lead indicator," he said, explaining that potential donors
"When we went to the lot today, there was a total of just seven cars," LeFever said.
A trip to the Fairfield auto mall told the story, he said.
"There were rows of these used cars lined up that said they were not for sale but were to be crushed and demolished," he said. "It's a striking visual."
While the government's intervention will decrease the inventory donated to charitable car lots, it will also reduce the number of low-priced cars available for resale, he added. The popular federal program requires that the "clunkers" be destroyed, decreasing the options for cash-strapped buyers looking for transportation.
"We often sell our cars to individuals who cannot afford anything else. In some cases these are men and women who have been helped off the streets by the mission. Now they have a job and need cheap wheels to get there," Marlette said. "They can't buy a new car. What are they supposed to do?"
LeFever said he believes that's one aspect being overlooked in the rush to praise the cash-for-clunkers program.
"In the end, it's not just the charities like us in the middle who are impacted but the person who can't afford anything more and who could really use one of these cars," he said.
Bottom line for the mission is, that it hurts it as well.
"At a time when the economy is down -- and so our donations are down and the need for services is up -- this is just another kick in the shins," he said.