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Star-Telegram.com

Dallas-Fort Worth families avoiding homelessness with federal stimulus money

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 06, 2010

By DIANE SMITH

dianesmith@star-telegram.com

Donnell McDavid lost his job at a temp service in August 2008.

The 37-year-old is blunt: "I was a deadbeat dad on drugs. Because of the strong addiction I had to drugs, I didn't even want to go to work."

McDavid has since turned his life around, but by the time he graduated from a drug rehabilitation program, he was facing homelessness.

That's when friends at Victory Temple of Praise Church suggested that he call Catholic Charities - Diocese of Fort Worth to seek assistance.

Federal stimulus money now keeps McDavid and his family under a roof while he tries to find work. McDavid's is among 432 area households assisted through the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. The stimulus dollars, aimed at preventing families from becoming or staying homeless, are being tracked by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition

Social service leaders said the aid is crucial.

"They really hit the mark as far as the need was," said Kristi Zan, development coordinator at the nonprofit Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange. The organization received a $60,000 grant.

"We are seeing people who either lost their jobs and it takes them a number of months to find another job," Zan said. "Their first paycheck may not come before their eviction."

Tarrant County and the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington all received the stimulus funds for distribution to several social agencies. Tarrant County got $1,156,125; Fort Worth received $2,746,929; and Arlington received $1,304,792.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs also had homeless prevention money it distributed to 57 entities and nonprofits across Texas. The state is injecting $3.8 million in federal stimulus money in North Texas, including through the Keller-based Community Storehouse, which is using nearly $1 million to help prevent homelessness in Denton, Tarrant and Wise counties.

Catholic Charities received $3.1 million in stimulus money from Tarrant County, Fort Worth, Arlington and the state to prevent homelessness in nine counties, including Parker, Johnson and Cooke.

"It's trying to catch people before they fall in," said Gordon Anderson, spokesman for Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. "It's really a midterm assistance program. It's not a mortgage rescue."

Anderson said people who qualify for the programs get help paying for rent, hotels, moving assistance or security deposits. They also receive individualized attention to their case.

He said that from September through February, 17,993 people statewide were assisted with homeless-prevention money from the state's department of housing.

Amy Morgan, office manager for the Community Storehouse, said her organization has helped about 95 households.

Morgan said that after an initial crush of applicants, they set up an appointment system to better review applicants. They are also working with Catholic Charities to start budgeting classes for clients.

Families can apply for emergency rental or utility assistance while they regain their financial footing. People with rental eviction notices or utility shut-off notices can apply for the temporary assistance. But they need to commit to searching for work.

"We feel really, really blessed," said a 31-year-old mother of three who ended up in a homeless shelter before a school counselor referred her to Community Storehouse. Her family is now renting a house in north Fort Worth.

DIANE SMITH, 817-390-7675

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