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.
On Saturday, September 30, Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA Jennifer Weatherford attended the Veterans and Family Resource Expo in Sherman, TX on behalf of her host agency, Texoma Council of Government’s Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). The ADRC, which acts as a referral agency and advocates to address the needs of the elderly, persons with disabilities, low income individuals and families, homeless and at-risk homeless persons across twelve counties in Northeast Texas, is an especially crucial resource for veterans. During her time spent at Saturday’s expo, Jennifer shared crucial information about the ADRC’s available resources to the community in attendance, many of whom were not aware of the help TCOG and the ADRC offers.
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.
Jennifer Weatherford serves with the Texoma Council of Government’s Adult and Disability Resource Center as the Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA. On Tuesday, July 11, Jennifer drove to Van Alstyne, TX to meet with Irma Eaves, owner and operator of Camelot Multifamily Investments, to discuss affordable housing. Mrs. Eaves expressed interest in acquiring nine furnished units, split into three buildings, to low income individuals but was having trouble with the logistics of financing. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Jennifer had started a Housing Grants and Loans Master List and was able to offer Mrs. Eaves information regarding a Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) Multifamily Direct Loan that would offer her significantly reduced interest rates and give her the means to see her project through. During the course of the meeting, Jennifer was also able to counsel Mrs. Eaves on the types of low income tenants that would be best suited to the location and function of her units, taking full advantage of the communal spaces offered in each of the buildings. With the submission deadline for the loan document set at October 31, 2017, Jennifer intends to keep in close communication with Mrs. Eaves through the course of the paperwork and the development process, as well as introduce her to partner agencies and land surveyors that will work to expedite the process of both installing the units and introducing tenants.
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.
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.
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.
On April 6th, Giving Hope, Inc., a nonprofit agency serving homeless and near homeless individuals and families in Denton, TX, hosted their Annual Night of Hope event which was a big success. All the hard work of Board members, staff and AmeriCorps VISTA member Daisy Martinez over the past couple of months finally paid off. At a Night of Hope, Daisy checked-in and welcomed all the guests who arrived for the night alongside board member, Janet Sheton. Once everyone had a chance to look over the silent auction items, the attendees sat down for a dinner catered by Cartwright’s Ranch House. Daisy helped present multiple members of the community, and partner agencies with “Heart of Hope” Awards in order to recognize their support and dedication to helping the agency grow. Following the dinner, there was a cake auction where each cake sold for around $150-$300! All in all, everyone had a good time and nearly $50,000 was raised overall for a Night of Hope. Funds raised will be used to assist individuals and families remain housed.
In the month of March, Giving Hope, Inc. is seeing the hard work of Resource Development VISTA Daisy Martinez pay off. The Annual Night of Hope event has not even taken place yet, and the agency has raised a total of $42,750 in sponsorships, $1,125 in Ticket Sales, $675 in cash donations, $495 in Raffle Ticket Sales, and $540 in item donations for the Silent Auction. In total Giving Hope has raised $45,585 for A Night of Hope, and still have the opportunity to raise even more the evening of April 6th. Daisy is working very closely with Giving Hope Board President, Margaret Dawson and the other Board Members to bring in as much money as possible to help more potentially homeless, or homeless people within the community. Daisy also had the opportunity to manage 2 volunteers who went into the community to solicit donations for the silent auction. Daisy and the volunteers collected a variety of items from floral arrangements, to wine tasting classes, to gift cards to local restaurants. The goal for this year’s event was $40,000 which is double the amount of last year’s fundraiser has been exceeded. Stay tuned to hear the final total of the 2017 Night of Hope fundraiser.