Making homelessness rare, short-term and nonrecurring in Fort Worth
Directions Home Emphasizes Housing, Employment to help
Homeless Get off the Street
In January West Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association hosted the director of Directions Home, Tara Perez, who leads the city’s homelessness assistance program. She and one other employee manage a $3 million budget out of the city manager’s office.
“Directions Home isn’t the largest agency in town, but it fills in gaps in federal funding,“ Perez said. “In the past several months, shelters have been full. Funds from Directions Home have been used to add 100 extra beds.” She describes the group as local, flexible and targeted.
Directions Home’s mission is to:
Oversee federal grants to homeless agencies
Strategize with the Tarrant County Homelessness Coalition, the lead agency on homelessness community, to assist. Example: Veterans Challenge to house 100 vets in 100 days (181 achieved)
Develop permanent supportive housing
Fort Worth’s homeless population has remained steady over the last decade. In fact, Fort Worth, despite its rapid growth, has one of the lowest homeless populations in the state and nation. Perez said when she visits local neighborhood groups; she hears how homeless numbers have exploded. “Although Fort Worth’s numbers are flat, the percentage of homeless who are unsheltered and living outside has drastically increased. “
Causes of homelessness
Every January the City of Fort Worth conducts a homeless count. Fort the past three years, the top two reasons for homelessness have been unemployment, underemployment and inability to pay rent. For men, the third reason has been substance abuse. For women, it’s domestic violence. The 2020 homeless count is Jan.23. Volunteers will be given a designated area to walk/drive and count homeless populations. Police officers accompany teams who track veterans, families, other groups. The count helps the city know how best to reallocate resources. “It’s a snapshot in time,” Perez said. “Not a comprehensive look.”
Solutions to homelessness
“Solving homelessness is difficult. But the answer is always housing. We do have a housing shortage. Quickly entering housing allows time to deal with other issues,“ Perez said.
Rapid Exit is a new city program to assist with housing entry costs. “Most people exit homelessness through employment, not through programs. Move in costs are expensive. It’s not just deposit and first month’s rent anymore. It’s the security deposit, application fee, administration fee, high risk fee, and opportunity fee, all of which adds up $1500 to $2000.”
Another program targeting families provides three month’s rent to help them get housed and out of shelter. By removing families from shelters, limited beds open up in shelters for other families.
Redirecting community efforts
Perez said there is no shortage of food on East Lancaster. “Every weekend organizations are fighting to feed the homeless on East Lancaster. Tons of food and clothing are going to waste. The system is housing 10 to 14 households a week. Those are the people who need help. There are a glut of resources in the area that are not needed, and a lack of help to those who need assistance, “she said.
Perez encouraged audience to explain to churches and organizations running volunteer programs for homeless people to create welcome baskets akin to a dorm move-in instead of distributing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on weekends. One volunteer created a furniture bank for those moving into unfurnished apartments.
Making Social Connections after moving in
Housing is the answer, but not the only answer. Housing separates the homeless from their communities. Depression goes up when people are lonely. Directions Home partners with churches to help sponsor game nights or social events for those entering housing.
Sparking more permanent supportive housing
City Council Member Kelly Allen Gray leads Homeless Family Connections, a $5 million city initiative matched with private funds to develop housing for the most difficult to place, those with disabilities who have been homeless the longest. The first project will be announced in February.
Directions Home also sponsors a Critical Documents Identification program for the homeless who need proof of identity. Two employees are on East Lancaster two days a week and the rest of the week are available in local shelters to help provide documents necessary to work and live.
The Fort Worth Police Department Hope Team, six officers and firefighters, serves the East Lancaster Avenue corridor providing assistance and security to the homeless. Because the homeless are often preyed upon, the team works to protect and assist those on the street. FWPD is negotiating with a company now to provide security on evenings and weekends. Near East Side Neighborhood Association built into its contract that the security patrol would come to association meetings and report progress.
Employment and wage boosts
All providers who work with the homelessness in the city and county emphasize boosting income, Perez said. Another new city program works closely with homeless and employers to help increase employment and boost salaries. Goodwill is one of major players who are helping with employment. Clean Slate at Presbyterian Night Shelter has contracts to pick up trash on public and private locations. Many homeless who move into apartments aren’t eligible for rental assistance. Even if first six to 12 months is paid, newly housed homeless can struggle with costs. A new city program targeting families has resulted in a 27 percent increase in number of children housed.
Communicating with Hispanic neighbors; Broadcast Hill progress; EarthFest plans
The February speaker Fernando Peralta, president of Las Familias de Rosemount, leads a neighborhood association with 92 percent Hispanic population. Peralta is the youngest neighborhood association president in Fort Worth.
Rosemount is a unique neighborhood with 7,000 residents located from Hemphill to Granbury Road and from Seminary to South Berry. Peralta moved to Rosemount in 2017 because of location and schools. When he and his wife arrived, he noticed the lack of communication among residents. In August 2019, the city approved the neighborhood association’s formation.
Peralta worked closely with the city’s community engagement group to develop bylaws. “Our goal is reach as many people as we can right now with the long-term objective of dividing into three separate associations,” he said.
“We knew we had to put a new face on our neighborhood,” Peralta said. “Organizers had to establish contact with neighbors to introduce the association and its purpose.”
A communications conduit was especially important because Rosemount has been designated by the city for a neighborhood improvement grant of $3.1 million. In addition, the Fort Worth Independent School District plans to realign boundaries for Rosemount schools, the first such realignment in decades.
“Meetings are in both Spanish and English,” Peralta said. “It’s important that our residents understand what is going on. All communications is in both languages.”
The city endeavors to have translators at every Las Familias de Rosemount. In the Hispanic community, neighborhood associations aren’t really understood. “Neighbors just know neighbors,” he explained.
Peralta is attempting to build bridges between city services and his neighborhood association members. He and his board of five walk door to door to ensure residents are aware of what is coming to the neighborhood so that they can express their feelings about any changes.
The census is especially important. “We will have to hit the streets again to encourage our neighbors to complete the census. Some neighbors are afraid to offer too much information,” he said.
“Our goal is to be conduit of information,” Peralta said. “If you aren’t aware of what is coming, you’re fearful. If we don’t reach out, who will?”
Involving longstanding residents in the neighborhood association is key to the success of the group, Peralta said. “They are walking encyclopedias, and we need their knowledge,” he added.
He became interested in forming the association after attending a homelessness meeting. “Because I worked with the homeless population in another job, I was able to offer information to contradict some misconceptions,” he said.
Peralta uses social media, flyers, and word of mouth to drive news about meetings and plans for the area.
In an updated after the program, District 8 City Council Member Kelly Allen Gray reminded the members that the groundbreaking for the Reby Cary Youth Library is March 21. She encouraged everyone to mark calendars to attend.
Gray said the city has begun a new initiative to protect green spaces in the city. Just as that conversation began gaining steam, WMNA reached out about preserving Broadcast Hill, a plot of land located adjacent to the Tandy Hills Nature Preserve. Owners of the property contacted Gray about selling the acreage. In just a few days, a plan came together to approach the city about buying the property. An email campaign and fundraising effort caught the attention of city administration. “Stay tuned!” she said. “I feel as if this is going to happen.”
Keep sending emails to the city manager and project manager. “I appreciate your engagement and sometimes the moon and stars align in our favor,” Gray said.
Brian Builta, Texas Wesleyan University, spoke briefly about an upcoming celebration of Earth Day on April 18 at the 160-acre Tandy Hills Nature Preserve. The full day festival will be underwritten by sponsors and a grant from TWU of $5,000. Earth Fest will be a combined clean up, bio survey, and afternoon festival. Builta and biology students at TWU will organize the event with help from area businesses and nonprofits. Builta asked for neighborhood volunteers to assist with organization and service. He is particularly interested in how parking should be handled.