When Becky Orander, executive director of Arlington Life Shelter, was notified in mid-August that the agency would lose $150,000 in federal funding for employment and education programs, she wasn’t too happy.The federal Housing and Urban Development Department has decided to concentrate on providing the homeless with housing vouchers and not other support services, she said. As a result, money the nonprofit agency has relied on since 1995 for these vital programs will be gone by July 1. “The philosophy is totally opposite from the agency’s belief that the only way to long-term stability is through employment,” Orander said.To show that the homeless need more than just help with housing, the shelter is providing “The Road Home” tours to show that the agency, besides providing short-term shelter, also provides other support services, including a 12-week employment program that shows the homeless how to become more self-sufficient.The shelter hopes to raise enough money during its campaign to not only continue its existing programs but also expand them, including one that would offer transitional services after people leave the shelter.People at risk of becoming homeless “need a Band-Aid before small problems turn into big, gushing wounds,” Assistant Executive Director Janel Holt said.Not an easy roadTrials and tribulations do not end when people leave the shelter, she said, so raising funds for an after-care program is essential to keeping clients off the streets. The new program should roll out by the end of the year. The shelter, which has traditionally started taking in clients at 4 p.m. each day for dinner, classes and a place to bathe and rest and requiring them to leave by 8 a.m., is also looking to offer services during the day. Forty-one percent of people served are women and children and 59 percent are men.“We don’t have the resources to keep the place open. We need more case managers and employees,” said Annamarie Saavedra, director of donor services.Though the shelter has seven dorms — three for women and children, three for men and one for women — there are many nights caseworkers have to turn people away for lack of space.On a recent tour Saavedra played a recording of a man named Boyd who at 50 years old had to quit his job and exhaust his savings to care for his terminally ill mother. After she died he wound up living in her car before he finally tried to seek refuge at the shelter. He tried for four nights, but there was no room. On the fifth day he used the last of his money to buy a small bottle of wine and rat poison. He decided that if he couldn’t get into the shelter that night, he didn’t need to keep living. Luckily the shelter had a place for him and, after graduating from its technical program, he landed a computer job in California.Breaking the cycleHolt said if the shelter cannot open during the day, it won’t be effective in helping those who have to take jobs no one wants — the night shifts.There are also many children at the shelter, and even a game room and separate nursery for pregnant women and infants. Holt said they would like to work more intensively with children so they won’t continue the cycle and their children end up homeless.Tours are open to the community at noon on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.“At the end of this year we’ll turn 26, and there are still people who have no idea there is a homeless shelter in Arlington,” Saavedra said.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST