Fort Worth homeless resource center to become reality

Posted Monday, Apr. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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This article has been modified from the way it originally was published in the Star-Telegram and on to correct the spelling of Robert Earley's name.

The purpose of Fort Worth's Directions Home program is summarized in one of those nailed-down statements that leaves no room for misinterpretation, and it's been the same since the effort was launched in 2008: "to make homelessness rare, short-term and nonrecurring."

Unfortunately, as with all things reliant mostly on local and state public funding, the strength of that effort can wax or wane depending on the dollars available.

And perhaps even more unfortunate, homelessness can be countercyclical. When the economy is ailing and the strain on available public dollars is greatest, those same conditions can result in more people losing their homes.

That's why some of the initial goals of Directions Home have stayed out of reach. Now, thanks to a local foundation and JPS Health Network's launch of a pro-active strategy to give homeless people a healthcare home, one of those goals will be met.

The Fort Worth Foundation, formed through the bequest of successful real estate professional Norman Kronick after his death in 2010, has announced that it will build a 25,000-square-foot central resource center near the homeless shelters on East Lancaster Avenue.

JPS, Tarrant County's taxpayer-supported public health network, plans to lease about half of the facility for a community clinic targeting services to the homeless.

JPS has cited its own 2011 study that identified 250 homeless patients who frequently sought healthcare in its emergency room and inpatient services at a cost that year of more than $10 million. Robert Earley, the president and CEO of JPS, says those costs can be brought down if a convenient and properly equipped and staffed clinic entices those patients to seek care at the onset of their illness rather than after it becomes more serious. The same goes if they receive regular care for chronic conditions.

The other half of the central resource center, which will be built on approximately 1.5 acres at 1513 E. Presidio St., is to be occupied by social service agencies that provide additional aid to homeless people. Again, the idea is to provide an easy-to-access facility that is close and convenient to prospective clients.

One thing has become clear since Directions Home was launched at the urging of former Mayor Mike Moncrief almost five years ago: When it comes to decreasing the number of homeless people in a community, speed counts. The faster they receive the services they need and are moved back into proper housing, the more likely they are to be successful at regaining productive self-sufficiency.

Fort Worth allocated $2.1 million to Directions Home in its 2013 budget, with another $470,000 expected to come in grants from the state. That's a lot of money, but it's down 10 percent from the previous year.

The program currently places its highest priority and devotes the bulk of its money to rental assistance, housing retention and housing placement. Although the central resource facility has been a top goal since the beginning, the money to make it happen has not been available.

In four terms (eight years) as mayor, Moncrief put an indelible label on the independence, courtesy, generosity and respect for others that he said marked the residents of this city. He called it "the Fort Worth way."

There can be no better description of what Norman Kronick and the Fort Worth Foundation, along with JPS, are doing to help people recover from homelessness and get back on their feet. The Fort Worth way.

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