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.
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.
During the first week of August 2017, Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA Jennifer Weatherford attended a two day housing seminar in Longview, TX to participate with regional councils of government, homeless coalitions, health care representatives, housing developers, and other non-profit and for-profit agencies in training and discussion pertaining to engaging community partners to expand supportive housing. The seminar was organized by Community Housing Partners and provided invaluable information about the process of identifying and subsequently developing working relationships with each of the important participating agencies which are crucial for the development of permanent supportive housing. Consequently, Jennifer was able to establish a broader network of individuals interested in advocating for affordable housing, including a housing developer interested in obtaining land and developing supportive, affordable housing for low income and disabled seniors in Lamar County. With the help of the Affordable Housing Loans and Grants information supplied during their meeting, this developer is intending to build 18 supportive, affordable rental units to disabled and senior tenants in the coming year.
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 has finished her work on the Youth Services Directory (YSD) and has sent it to every public middle and high school in Dallas and Collin Counties. The YSD is also on the MDHA website, which is more directly accessible to homeless youth and more cost-effective than the print version. She is working on the web page version of the YSD, which will change with every update on service providers, youth needs, and Continuum of Care (CoC) members. Victoria has converted the Housing Resource Guide (HRG) to an editing software and updated with relevant information. The HRG will be given to every recently-housed person in the CoC, and contains tools to help them become successful in their housing situation and personal goals. In addition, Victoria has begun to map the system of care in faith-based communities by reaching out to churches, mosques, and synagogues to join our Faith-Based Collaboration Committee. By figuring out how these organizations interact with each other and with non-faith-based organizations, the CoC will be able to better serve our homeless friends and neighbors.
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.
On Tuesday, June 20, AmeriCorps VISTA Jennifer Weatherford attended a Career and Community Resource Expo in Mt. Pleasant, TX on behalf of the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). Jennifer regularly attends expos similar to these in order to inform communities about the information and referral services offered by the ADRC, services which work to prevent homelessness in vulnerable populations, including the elderly, veterans, disabled persons, low income families, and those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by coordinating and connecting crucial community service providers with those most in need. During her time at the Mt. Pleasant Expo, Jennifer provided outreach materials to the more than 160 local community members who were in attendance, and made personal referrals to 14 of those who stand to benefit immensely from the ADRC’s services.
AmeriCorps VISTA Jennifer Weatherford has been busy making important organizational connections throughout the 12-county North Texas region Texoma Council of Governments’ (TCOG) Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) serves. Jennifer was invited to attend four Career and Community Resource Expos in the Texoma area. On Tuesday, April 18, Jennifer traveled to Texarkana, TX to represent her agency at the first of many expos. At this function she spoke to dozens of local individuals, many of whom expressed their interest in the services that the ADRC offers. She managed to refer more than 40 veterans and family members of veterans to the ADRC toll-free informational number, and dozens more seniors and primary caregivers received vital information regarding benefits counseling and referral services. Through community connections with housing authorities and community resource expos Jennifer has located several landlords in the Texoma and Texarkana area which are invaluable to the capacity building process. One landlord in particular has expressed generous interest in working closely with TCOG and the ADRC to house low income and disabled individuals in Grayson County. Jennifer intends to work with the landlord and inquire about the availability of 9 additional vacant units in the following months. Jennifer also took the initiative to research and compile a Local Support Services Directory for Grayson, Cooke, and Fannin counties, the major counties which the TCOG serves. This Support Services Directory will not only aid TCOG employees in their referral services, but also serve as a convenient, concise, sustainable directory for locals to take advantage of when searching for local community resources.