Cindy Crain is determined to learn the name of every homeless veteran in Fort Worth within the next 100 days. And the executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC) wants representatives from 34 veterans’ and homeless advocacy organizations to do the same.
Getting to know the area’s homeless veterans is just one part of a coordinated push by TCHC and its nonprofit and government partners to end veteran homelessness here by December 2015. Crain has gotten her hands on some federal dollars to deal with that issue.
But the TCHC isn’t stopping with veterans. The nonprofit has just become the funding hub for a state program that aims to end chronic homelessness in Tarrant County by that same date.
The homeless coalition recently received more than $500,000 from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to distribute to local nonprofits. The TCHC is the local arm of Continuum of Care, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and aimed at coordinating the efforts of the many nonprofit homeless-service providers and city and county governments.
The state housing agency had previously distributed the grant money, but it tended to fund the same programs year in and year out, without much regard for the changing needs of the community, Crain said. Now the state has redirected those funds to the TCHC as part of a pilot program to see if the money will have more impact in the hands of a local organization.
“The state doesn’t have the staff to evaluate everything all year-round,” she said. I am closer to the ground. I can monitor their performance and make sure we’re getting the outcomes we want.”
Crain said her priorities in doling out the money are ending violence against homeless women, expanding programs that serve the segment of the homeless population that isn’t going to shelters, and doing what she calls rapid rehousing — finding housing for those who have recently become homeless, before they descend into the chronic homeless culture.
After a lengthy process, she selected four programs to share the money: Catholic Charities in Fort Worth, YWCA of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Presbyterian Night Shelter, and the Salvation Army.
“We were able to stop funding the same projects year after year, which is what Austin did, and create some new projects that address very specific needs in our community,” she said.
The only organization to lose funding from that grant was Safe Haven of Tarrant County. The agency, which helps battered women and rape victims, made up for the loss with additional, separate funds from the state, so it won’t have to eliminate programs.
Homeless advocates were due for some good news. It’s been tough sledding lately for many of the nonprofits that look out for the interest of area homeless people.
Last month, the Fort Worth Transit Authority announced it was cutting a program that gives free bus passes to 144 nonprofit organizations annually through a grant program called Fare Aid. The T handed out more than $300,000 worth of passes last year and sold a significant number of additional passes at half-price.
That news couldn’t have come at a worse time for area homeless advocates, who are losing faith in the city’s commitment to its 10-year plan to end homelessness. The Directions Home Plan, launched six years ago, has found homes for 1,200 residents and decreased homelessness in Fort Worth by 20 percent.
Despite that modest success, however, the city’s homeless population grew last year, and there are still roughly 2,000 homeless people in town. Last winter, for the first time, the shelters on East Lancaster Avenue ran out of emergency beds during the winter storms. And owners of homes and businesses near the East Lancaster corridor are growing more vocal in their opposition to the expansion of homeless-service agencies there.
The TCHC’s successes aren’t just a stroke of luck. In March Crain announced the coalition’s two-year plan to end chronic homelessness in this area. It focuses on outreach and creating new job-placement programs, among other initiatives. The sudden infusion of state and federal cash are some of the early fruits of that plan.
Nine charities applied for the state money. Each of the four selected programs will receive between $85,000 and $147,000.
Catholic Charities’ share of the money will allow it to expand its Street Outreach Service program to nights. The program seeks out homeless people who don’t go to shelters and provides them with supplies such as bug spray, blankets, bottled water, and hygiene and first aid kits. It also helps them with all-important paperwork: documents dealing with housing-placement, letters confirming that the individuals indeed are homeless and therefore eligible for services, and other critical records such as a birth certificates and photo IDs.
Jay Semple, the organization’s Street Outreach Service program manager, said Catholic Charities will work with Texas Christian University social work professor Dr. James Petrovich, who will bring in students to assist in the nighttime outreach.
“We’re missing a lot of the folks in the daytime because they are working, they leave their camp during the day, and they go walk around, they’re all over the place,” Semple said.
Carol Klocek, executive director and CEO for the YWCA, said her nonprofit will now be able to provide emergency housing for the families of women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse.
“We have been providing services for single women since the inception of our organization, but we haven’t had the capacity until now to provide … housing assistance for families with children,” she said.
Klocek said the 2012 Homeless Women’s Victimization study by the University of North Texas Health and Science Center had a dramatic effect on her organization. The study found an alarming number of homeless women had experienced abuse at the East Lancaster shelters.
“The shelters there are doing good work, but the reality is there is a lot of danger in that life, and women responded by saying yes, they had experienced physical abuse; yes, they had experienced sexual assault, and it was a common experience,” she said. “When we realized the degree of violence women were experiencing on a regular basis, the YWCA decided we needed to expand our emergency shelter from three to 13 beds –– and now we have 29.”
The Salvation Army will use the grant money to provide short-term rental assistance for up to 65 people through a subsidy that will decrease each month, until the recipients are paying their own way entirely. And the Presbyterian Night Shelter will use its share of the money to add 11 homes to its “Rapid Rehousing” program, which moves families to permanent homes more quickly than traditional transitional housing programs.
Crain said she wants to see dramatic reductions in the average length of stay in emergency shelters and in the ranks of chronically homeless.
On Tuesday — Veterans Day — at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on White Settlement Road, the TCHC announced the first part of its campaign to find housing for the 125 homeless veterans in Tarrant County. In addition to having advocates learn the name of every homeless veteran in town, the plan for the first 100 days requires the agencies involved to triple the number of bus passes available, make sure the veterans have their important documents in order, and create veteran-to-veteran mentoring programs. Funding for the plan comes from Opening Doors, a $600 million national program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Crain said TCHC needs to provide housing for an average of 16 veterans a month in order to get all of them out of the shelters and off the streets by December 2015.
Last week Crain hosted what she called a boot camp to coordinate the plans of the organizations involved, which includes the VA and the American G.I. Forum.
Crain said the stakeholders will meet twice a week over the next 100 days.
“A lot of these people didn’t really know each other,” she said. “We found out a lot of things that were broken in our system and figured out how to fix them.”