AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, Victoria played an instrumental role in MDHA’s overall mission to make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring with the creation of a comprehensive Youth Services Directory for young people seeking services. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) brings together more than 85 shelters, housing and supportive services programs through their Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a community-wide database serving 10,126 persons. Understanding that youth experiencing homelessness are far more likely to utilize community Wi-Fi hotpots on smartphones when choosing to seek services, Victoria transformed her directory into an online database on the MDHA resource page. Users will see a paragraph explaining the webpage, followed by links to different service areas such as housing, educational help, employment services, and LGBTQ-affirming services. The Youth Services Directory webpage incorporates user friendly features, including direct links to each program website, gender identity symbols indicating whether or not programs house transgender individuals. And, as a precautionary effort to provide clients with an added sense of security while seeking services, the webpage displays an escape button that immediately exits out completely.
Homelessness can be both visible and invisible. When there are encampments under the freeways, homelessness is visible. But when someone goes to school every day for a hot meal, or couch surfs for weeks on end that is when homelessness is invisible. Youth Homelessness is often invisible, and receiving feedback from young people who have experienced homelessness is imperative to finding a sustainable solution to it. As a result, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has founded a Youth Action Board (YAB) that consists of individuals under the age of 25 who have experienced homelessness, foster care, or unstable housing. The YAB’s inaugural meeting was held in March, and Victoria facilitated the meeting as the members connected across agencies, discussed goals for the group, and possible marketing techniques to get more Youth Experts involved in the YAB. For their next meeting in April, they will establish governance if a quorum is present. The YAB will elect a Chair who will attend the Continuum of Care board meetings and report back to the group, as well as facilitate meetings and activities in which the YAB wishes to participate.
AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, serving with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has spent the past few months finalizing and perfecting the New Tenant Resource Guide (NTRG). In this guide, newly-housed clients will find a Birth Certificate application, a Voter Registration Card, and a resource directory that ranges from employment needs to medical needs that can be fulfilled in Dallas and Collin Counties. In January, she gathered the participants of December’s pilot program, in addition to representatives from several other agencies for training and distribution of the first official New Tenant Resource Guides. In this meeting, she trained the representatives on the 60 pages of the NTRG, from the instructions on how to access critical documents to the ten-page resource directory at the end of the guide. To prevent too many general funds and office hours being used on putting together each individual guide, Victoria uploaded each element of the guide to Basecamp, a website meant to organize cooperative projects. In this way, all agencies funded by the Continuum of Care or the Emergency Solutions Grant now have access to this guide and can print it with ease and at no cost.
Name: Victoria Jackson
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Alma Mater: Loyola University Chicago
Volunteer history: I was on the executive board of the Habitat for Humanity chapter of my university, and after college I was a typing and TEFL tutor at local community centers for about a year. I came across AmeriCorps while working at a mortgage company, and decided to leave the industry to work for DuPage Habitat for Humanity as an AmeriCorps National on the construction team. After my first AmeriCorps year ended, I came back home to Dallas and found a VISTA position at Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.
Why did you choose VISTA? I knew that I wanted to work in the nonprofit world but had very little experience and didn’t know on which cause I wanted to focus. VISTA provides me with the opportunity to learn in a working environment and has helped me focus my interest in one area.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: MDHA facilitates collaboration between homeless service providers and is the lead agency for the Continuum of Care, whose end goal is to make any experience of homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. MDHA also coordinates HUD Continuum of Care grant funding for homelessness in Dallas and Collin county. What I do, specifically, is help facilitate collaboration between youth service providers, faith-based organizations, and create tools that help people recovering from homelessness to achieve and maintain stability.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? The Youth Services Directory, which is an array of services and housing options for homeless youth in Dallas and Collin counties.
Victoria Jackson is the Homeless Resource Development VISTA with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). MDHA serves as the lead agency for the local Continuum of Care and it administrates the local Homeless Management Information System, which tracks performance and drives improvement of service providers. The homeless assistance agencies that have programs for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) have encountered a new challenge: what to do when a client no longer wants services. About 5% of the tenants of PSH feel that they can live independently and no longer need supportive services. AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has joined an endeavor spearheaded by the Dallas/Collin County Continuum of Care to create a path to independence from the PSH Program. Victoria has helped update the Independent Housing Readiness Assessment (IHRA), a tool that will be used to help a client decide if he or she is ready to live independently. Considering the fact that affordable housing is extremely limited in Dallas, creating more Permanent Supportive Housing for the homeless with disabilities is even more difficult. Therefore, finding room for more clients in the PSH programs will help alleviate the burden on the emergency shelter system. With the help of the IHRA, more clients might be willing and able to live independently and create more room for clients in Permanent Supportive Housing Programs.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, at least one thousand refugees were sheltered at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Center in Dallas. FEMA, OEM, and the Red Cross served several hundred of these individuals, who were able to return home or were able to secure housing. However, about 300 people were able to return to their towns, but not their apartments or houses. Additionally, some refugees were homeless before the disaster and continued to be homeless afterwards. In light of these complications, AmeriCorps VISTA member Victoria Jackson serving with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, drafted a list of homeless and housing-related services organized by county to assist case managers at the shelter in making referrals. Victoria also provided copies of a local directory of housing services in Dallas for refugees who had no choice but to stay in Dallas. As a result, refugees have access to housing stabilization services no matter where they are staying.
When thinking of helping the homeless, some people might think of social workers. However, we more likely tend to think of volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, faith-based communities report the most volunteerism, and the most frequently reported forms of volunteerism are meal services and food pantries. Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has dedicated part of its Strategic Plan to engaging and coordinating with the faith-based communities of Dallas and Collin counties with the goal of serving more homeless neighbors in the Continuum of Care (CoC). AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has joined this Faith-Based Collaboration to map the system of services in religious communities. The purpose of this map is to discover where our homeless neighbors enter and exit the system, how they navigate it, and how organizations in the CoC can engage them. Additionally, if the faith based communities of the Continuum of Care collaborate through increased communication then more referrals with direct clients to housing programs will end their homelessness.
AmeriCorps VISTA Member Victoria Jackson serves with the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). MDHA leads the development of an effective homeless response system to make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring. Victoria continues her work on the Youth Services Directory (YSD). She has met with over 15 different organizations that serve homeless youth, runaway youth, and youth aging out of the foster care system. According to the State of the Homeless based on the 2017 Point in Time count there are 569 homeless youth in Dallas and Collin Counties. Through these dedicated and hard-working agencies, youth are able to work on life skills, job readiness, and savings accounts so that when they exit the program, each youth is ready to hold their own lease, work, and go to school. Throughout the YSD is a series of symbols that allow each young person or case manager to search specifically for programs that provide emergency housing, childcare, or house transgender individuals based on their gender identity. The goal for this feature is to direct clients to the agencies that are most suited for their needs, thereby preventing an excessive amount of referrals and allowing the client to take ownership of his or her own housing plan.
The purpose of the Continuum of Care in Dallas and Collin Counties is to provide a smooth transition between services for people experiencing homelessness. Each agency and program should be able to contact each other to find services with as little inconvenience to the client as possible. What might be a small inconvenience to some, such as having to travel across town or finding a photo ID, might be a major roadblock to someone experiencing homelessness and could prevent someone from accessing the services they need. This is especially true for homeless youth, runaway youth, or youth aging out of the foster care system. Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s VISTA, Victoria Jackson, is drafting a Youth Services Directory that condenses all agencies serving homeless youth into one book. This book will be available in every public school, counselor’s office, community center, and case manager’s office in the local Continuum of Care. By having all relevant youth services in one place, a young person looking for housing might be able to eliminate their own roadblocks and make their homelessness brief, rare, and nonrecurring.
As a VISTA at Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance you will help end poverty by increasing the effectiveness of the homeless response system in Dallas and Collin County area. Major duties will include development of a youth resource guide utilizing social media/smartphone apps, development of a triage tool to assist with navigation of common legal issues, development of a “My Housing Plan” website to facilitate quick and appropriate housing connection and retention, and development of a resource tool to aid in understanding of processes surrounding obtainment of critical documents such as IDs, Birth Certificates, etc. VISTAs serve their communities through indirect service. The programs developed by the Homeless Resource Development VISTA will endure for years, however the VISTA member will have limited interaction with MDHA clients and will be based in an office setting. Applicants should possess strong oral and written communication skills and experience with data compilation and research.