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.
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.
Name: Jennifer Weatherford
Hometown: Seguin, Texas
Alma Mater: Arizona State University
Volunteer history: Let Girls Learn Fundraising and Awareness Project for Senegalese girls (2016); Votua Village Service Learning Project to maintain agricultural projects in Votua, Fiji (2015). I’ve also volunteered my time as a research assistant during my undergrad and spent a couple years as a foster for cats in the East Valley in Arizona.
Why did you choose VISTA: I recently relocated to Northeast Texas and was looking for a way to connect to my new community while putting my love for volunteering and community service to its best use. VISTA was the best option for me—not only does the VISTA program give me the resources I need to grow as a service-minded individual, but offers incentives for me to continue my education and pursue my graduate degree after my year of service has ended.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: I’m serving as an Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA with the Aging and Disability Resource Center at the Texoma Council of Governments. Essentially, my role in the organization is to connect with housing developers, landlords, homeless coalitions, and other partner agencies in order to expand the capacity of my community to offer affordable housing to homeless, at-risk homeless, seniors, veterans, low income families, and disabled persons.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? My role with VISTA has been a roller coaster of information, particularly because I’m the first VISTA in my community and the first to serve in this capacity. There was a lot to learn early on but the rewards from my time spent providing outreach to Northeast Texas have begun to show themselves; I’ve helped house a dozen individuals by connecting them to services throughout the region, and I’m excited to begin the next step of my service by providing much needed outreach to builders and developers to expand affordable housing.
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.