Arlington Citizen-Journal

Arlington Life Shelter acquires building for major expansion

Arlington Life Shelter clients Christi Skaggs and Donald Brower and their son Nicklaus line up for the night on Tuesday. The Arlington Life Shelter has acquired additional property nearby to expand its services and capacity.
Arlington Life Shelter clients Christi Skaggs and Donald Brower and their son Nicklaus line up for the night on Tuesday. The Arlington Life Shelter has acquired additional property nearby to expand its services and capacity. Star-Telegram

The Arlington Life Shelter has been helping the unfortunate since it opened as a cold-weather shelter in 1987.

Now, with the help of a $500,000 gift from local philanthropists John David and Leslie Moritz, the downtown-area nonprofit is getting more room to help clients put their lives back on track.

Shelter administrators recently finalized the purchase of a neighboring building in the 300 block of West Division Street — a 7,000-square-foot structure that houses an auto body shop. Shelter Executive Director Becky Orander said the expanded footprint is needed as Arlington’s homeless population grows.

“We are very excited to receive this building,” she said. “It’s very important that we’re doing what helps — what benefits the clients — the most, because that’s why we’re here.”

The shelter has 87 beds, of which 24 are designated for women and children. The agency prides itself on putting homeless people on the road to self-sufficiency by requiring employment of those who need more than temporary emergency shelter. Longer-term clients get help with education and life skills, healthcare and social services. The average stay is nine weeks.

Orander said the shelter has been consistently full this year.

The latest figures show increases in homelessness throughout Tarrant County. During its January “Count Night,” the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition reported 1,985 people experiencing homelessness, up 3.7 percent from a year ago. In Arlington, the numbers increased 24 percent, with 346 people unsheltered, in emergency shelters or in transitional housing. A lack of affordable housing for low-income renters is the greatest cause of homelessness, the coalition said.

1,985 Number of people experiencing homelessness in Tarrant County in January, up 3.7 percent from last year

Services that could be located in the newly purchased Arlington Life Shelter building include structured activities for children and families on weekends, daytime service hours for residents before employment and sleeping areas for those needing shelter for only a night or two. The space will also allow the shelter to expand support for employment and education, Orander said.

The current occupant, Sportscar Performance, will leave the building in March 2017. Shelter officials plan to raise $1.5 million to convert the mostly warehouse space.

Orander praised the generosity and vision of John David Moritz, president of the Moritz Dealerships and a member of the shelter’s advisory board. He agreed to donate $500,000 for the building after it became available this year.

In a statement, Moritz said he is glad to help. “Becky and I have discussed the agency’s service limitations over the past several years as the homeless population grows, so when the opportunity for expansion became available, I was pleased to increase my partnership with the organization.”

Victor Munson, an Arlington certified public accountant, provided $25,000 and helped secure another $25,000 to complete the purchase, Orander said.

I think it’s really, really great that they’re expanding because the need is also expanding as well.

Tim Von Hatten, who credits the shelter with helping him turn his life around five years ago

Former residents like Tim Von Hatten believe they are living proof that such investments pay off for the community. After years of drug addiction, Von Hatten became sober in the spring of 2010 and sought a temporary home at the shelter. Attending a class that helped him organize his work experience in a résumé led to a new job in landscaping and a new life. He credits shelter volunteers and staff with showing him that other people “really cared about my situation.”

JPS medical outreach visits homeless patients in Fort Worth.

Five years later, he’s recently married and a new homeowner.

“I think it’s really, really great that they’re expanding because the need is also expanding as well,” Von Hatten said. He hopes the shelter will raise the additional money it needs to renovate the newly purchased building and move in.

“I believe so much in Arlington that they are going to meet the need,” he said.

Twitter: @tracipeterson

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