In our latest conversation with a newsmaker, reporter Kristen Barton sat down with Tarrant County Homeless Coalition Executive Director Lauren King to discuss how to help the homeless during the holiday season. If you or anyone you know is experiencing homelessness, the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition hotline may be contacted at 817-996-8800 (call or text) or online at https://ahomewithhope.org/help/ To volunteer or donate, you also may learn more at the coalition’s website.
Kristen Barton: To get started, why don’t you tell the listeners what the homeless coalition does?
Lauren King: The homeless coalition is a nonprofit that serves Tarrant and Parker counties, and we are a catalyst for community change and we lead the solution to homelessness. We work with all of the partners, all the nonprofits you probably know and love like Presbyterian Night Shelter, Union Gospel, DRC Solution, Salvation Army. Some of our partners who have been around for many, many years in our community, we work with them to make sure we have a cohesive response to anyone who experiences homelessness. We have a very coordinated system, and a lot of our partners are aligned with our shared community vision of a vibrant community where everyone has a place to call home.
Kristen: This time of year, a lot of people are looking for ways to give back. Tell me some ways people can help the homeless this holiday season.
Lauren: We are always looking for ways for people to get involved. We always say homelessness is a community issue. Nonprofits and government entities will never solve it alone so I would encourage you to get involved in any way you feel called.
But during the holidays, specifically, our partners could absolutely use help in providing Christmas to people, and I would say that’s people who are experiencing homelessness and are in shelters but also people who are housed. This year, we have housed about 1,600 people. That’s more than we’ve ever done, so a huge accomplishment for our communities that our partners made happen. But the majority of those people are still being served by partners so they are in a place to call home and would absolutely benefit from having Christmas provided for them either through some basic needs they have and or food. If you are called to give food and feel the need to feed people, people in apartments are actually often in need of food and could often use a holiday meal. I would encourage people to work with our partners and understand what their needs are and how they can help in that way.
Kristen: Tell me a little bit about some of your partners and what the partners do.
Lauren: There’s a variety of partners. There’s 40 of them and we have eight emergency shelters. There are three in Arlington and the rest are in Fort Worth. They provide emergency shelters. They are a place for people to seek shelter and to have a place to sleep at night. They also often provide a lot of different programs, such as employment programs, getting people connected with benefits, medical services, whatever other needs they might have as they search for housing. We try to get them out of homelessness as quickly as we can. One thing people might not know is that our shelters and our outreach providers also provide a lot of housing. They are not only serving people who are experiencing homelessness, but people who have exited as well.
Our outreach teams, we have six, serve people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness – people who are living on the street, who are living someplace not fit for human habitation. They are actually going out and meeting people where they are and getting them connected to services. Something people also might not know is that you don’t have to seek shelter to get into housing. Our goal is to end homelessness as quickly as we can, so if we can move them directly off the street and into a place to call home that absolutely can happen as well.
Kristen: So, there’s an increase in people wanting to give back this time of year, but is there any type of increase or change in the status quo as far as homelessness in the community goes this time of year?
Lauren: There’s not. Historically we have not seen an increase around the holidays. We see a huge increase in giving, but we have not seen an increase in the number of people who experience homelessness. We actually see an increase during the summer. We generally expect to see an increase during the summer. Part of that is because families take a really hard hit when school’s out, and their primary avenue for child care is no longer an option. We see that families often struggle to meet their basic needs in the summer. We see it at the opposite time of the year historically.
Kristen: If people don’t have the means to provide Christmas for someone or provide food or other types of monetary gifts, what are some ways they can volunteer?
Lauren: All of our partner agencies really rely on volunteers. I think most have brought back their volunteer programs. That’s something that to protect the population a lot of them reduced the use of volunteers just to minimize COVID spread. But a lot of our partner agencies use volunteers to help serve meals; even if you can’t provide a meal, you can help serve a meal. They always need help serving donations. And also, mentoring, resumes, anything you can kind of think of that might help people get back on their feet, they generally are looking for volunteers for that.
If you want to volunteer with children, often our shelters and housing programs are looking for adults who will come in and read to kids, help with homework, do those sorts of things as well.
Kristen: Is there anything else you want the listeners and the readers to know about helping the homeless?
Lauren: The most important thing I would encourage you to do is get involved with an agency. I know sometimes people want to go and pass out food and that sort of thing, and that is not all that helpful to our partners and to people often. For the neighborhood, it’s pretty detrimental. Another way people can help is by providing welcome home baskets.
Next year, we have a pretty ambitious goal to house 2,200 households in 2022. That’s a huge goal and one thing we do as a community as a group of providers is provide everyone with a welcome home basket. Think of anything you would need when you moved into your first place or got started, people are starting over with us. So they need cleaning products, toilet paper, paper towels, sheets, towels, plates, anything you need to get started. It’s a great opportunity if you’re a member of a civic group or a church group, we’ve had a lot of success having those groups collect those. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can visit our website. But as I mentioned, if you have the desire to give, my encouragement would just be to get involved with one of our partners or contact the homeless coalition and see how you can get involved and we can connect you. I would encourage people not to go and feed out of their trunk, not to just dump clothes on Lancaster. It has a detrimental effect on the neighborhood, it makes a lot of trash and at times it makes it more difficult for us to engage people in services. Our goal is to get everyone housed, and by helping our partners, we’re able to do that more successfully.
Kristen: Thank you Lauren, or taking some time to chat with us today.
Lauren: Absolutely, I’m glad to do it and if you have questions about homelessness, we have lots of data and information on our website people can find it and learn more. We try to be very upfront with the issue and we’re happy to answer any questions.
Kristen: If you have anyone that you want us to have one of these conversations with, you can reach out to any of our reporters or reach out to us on any of our social media channels with the Fort Worth Report and make a suggestion. Thank you for listening today.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.